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U. reaches agreement with Partners, Care New England

Memorandum of understanding maintains Med School’s role in research, R.I. health care if Partners-CNE merger is approved

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Partners HealthCare and Care New England announced Aug. 7 that the Alpert Medical School will be their primary academic research and teaching institution in Rhode Island should the two health care systems merge. Partners and CNE definitively announced their intent to merge in May, though the deal has yet to meet with regulatory approval.

Partners, CNE and the University signed a memorandum of understanding this month to confirm the Med School’s role in the merger in an effort to keep specialty care and research in-state. The memorandum stated that Brown’s president will sit on the CNE Board of Directors and the dean of the Med School will sit on any subcommittees of the board if the merger goes through.

“The goal is really to develop a good, healthy, productive relationship that maintains a strong center of biomedicine, clinical care and research and education in Rhode Island,” said President Christina Paxson P’19. Paxson was previously a vocal critic of the Partners-CNE deal, citing fears that the merger would move health care out-of-state since Partners is affiliated with Harvard.

Brown’s partnership with CNE is one of the cornerstones of the Med School, Paxson said, adding that one-third of the Med School’s teaching and research takes place within CNE hospitals. Women & Infants Hospital is vital for women’s health issues, and Butler Hospital, which provides psychiatric services, is an important part of Brown’s brain science initiative, she said. “Having those hospitals not be grounded in Rhode Island and not supported as high-end academic research centers would be devastating to the University,” Paxson said.

Brown’s involvement in the Partners-CNE merger also benefits CNE and the state as a whole, Paxson said. Partners has made it clear they’re interested in investing in academic medicine at Brown, Paxson said, and since Brown is “a big draw,” investing in Brown tends to bring more talented drs and health professionals to Providence. This means the quality of health care for Rhode Island residents would also be maintained, if not improved by the merger, she added.

Nevertheless, the Partners-CNE merger could increase the cost of health care for Rhode Islanders. A February study commissioned by the state found it likely that Partners would seek to increase CNE’s revenue if the two companies were merged, which would ultimately raise Rhode Island health insurance premiums. In her initial criticism of the Partners-CNE merger in January, Paxson too voiced concern that the merger would raise cost of health care.

Partners is not the cheapest alternative of potential mergers with CNE, said Steve Rasmussen, chair of psychiatry and human behavior and previous medical director for Butler. “But being a nonprofit, it doesn’t have to return 20 percent of its return to investors,” Rasmussen added. “Instead, that can be plowed into strengthening the organization and academic pursuits.”

The University previously proposed an alternative merger deal for CNE with Prospect Medical Holdings, a for-profit group.

While Paxson has not confirmed that her prior concerns about the merger have been entirely alleviated, she did emphasize that the memorandum moved things in “the right direction” for Brown’s growing relationship with CNE-Partners and health care in Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s economy could also grow as a result of the merger, she said.

“If you combine the strength of Partners with the strength of Brown, it’s going to become a very attractive place for investment for new biotech,” Rasmussen said.

CNE has been struggling financially, Rasmussen said, adding that he believes Partners is CNE’s best possible option because the Massachusetts health care system is financially healthy. In addition, Partners is “very academically oriented,” he said, which would bring “multiple benefits to (CNE’s) medical school in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island, Massachusetts and federal regulatory authorities must sign off on the deal before Partners and CNE officially merge. Partners recently requested an expedited regulatory review process from Rhode Island, according to Partners spokesperson Rich Copp. The timeline for the merger depends on how long the regulatory process takes.

“If things went smoothly, we could possibly be talking about sometime around the new year,” Copp said.