Earlier this fall, Brown announced that it would enter an agreement to strengthen its existing affiliation with Lifespan, the largest hospital system in Rhode Island, starting in 2024. The terms of the new partnership structure have yet to be finalized, but could include renaming Lifespan to “Brown Health,” the Herald previously reported.
Lifespan’s current agreement with Brown expires on Dec. 31, after which point the new non-binding terms will take effect. This newest collaboration is the most recent in a long line of partnerships between Brown, Lifespan and the state’s second-largest hospital group, Care New England.
Lifespan and CNE’s academic hospitals serve as teaching hospitals for Warren Alpert Medical School students, and the two hospital systems also serve as primary University collaborators for research.
“Lifespan has a long-standing affiliation agreement with Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School as three of the Lifespan hospitals are academic teaching hospitals — Rhode Island, The Miriam and Bradley hospitals,” wrote Lifespan Spokesperson Kathleen Hart in an email to The Herald. “Many physicians in these hospitals are faculty members of Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and are employed by Lifespan.”
“We have deep relationships across both our undergraduate … and graduate medical … educational programs,” wrote Jessica McCarthy, chief marketing officer at CNE, in an email to The Herald. The last major update to CNE’s affiliation agreement with Brown was made in 2018, McCarthy said.
In 2022, the University announced plans for a new aligned research collaboration agreement with Lifespan and CNE. The Brown Innovation and Research Collaborative for Health plan was a key step taken by the University and its partners to support their research efforts together.
CNE and Brown have both reiterated that the University’s new agreement with Lifespan will not impact their independent relationship. “As principal teaching hospitals for (Warren Alpert), we have a formal affiliation agreement, which remains in full effect,” wrote McCarthy. “CNE’s agreements today are the same as they were last week, and there are no plans to alter that ongoing and important work.”
While specifics about the new agreement continue to be discussed, President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote in an Oct. 24 Today@Brown announcement that it will “strengthen the existing affiliation and licensing agreements between the health system and Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School.”
Paxson wrote that the institutions “collectively aspire to ensure robust health care services and biomedical research in Rhode Island and beyond” and will focus on “creating the Rhode Island Life Science Hub, working with government, civic and business leaders and other organizations to create more well-paying jobs, and significantly improving access to both primary and specialty care.”
Hart confirmed that Lifespan is in discussions with Brown. Regarding the potential name change to “Brown Health,” Hart wrote that “nothing is off the table in our ongoing discussions, but there is nothing to report at this point.”
“It’s a little premature to characterize this potential partnership,” but it likely will not be deemed as any sort of merger, according to Yashaswini Singh, an assistant professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice whose research specializes in healthcare markets.
As a member of the School of Public Health, Singh noted the bureaucratic and administrative challenges for Brown students and faculty doing research across institutions. She said the new affiliation seems to be “a research partnership” that could ease some of those difficulties.
As for the impact a deepened Lifespan affiliation could have on patient care, Singh noted that every type of partnership is different.
While other local practitioners and community partners have remained relatively quiet about the new affiliation agreement, the Rhode Island Free Clinic — a Providence-based non-profit that serves uninsured adults and operates as a teaching site for aspiring healthcare workers — voiced their support for the agreement. The clinic currently partners with Lifespan, CNE and Brown.
“I don’t see any downside (of the new partnership) for Rhode Island Free Clinic,” RIFC Chief Executive Officer Forrest Daniels said. “Both entities see value in what we do. … It’s in everyone’s best interest that Rhode Island Free Clinic remains here.”
As for what Daniels hopes to see in the hospital system more broadly, he said, “I’d say what's best for our patients is to ensure that we are here."
“In order for that to happen we need to ensure some long-term sustained funding,” Daniels added.
Singh said that the healthcare markets that are best for patients are usually “competitive.” McCarthy noted that in the current healthcare system in Rhode Island, CNE and Lifespan “compete in certain areas,” which creates “options for care that is accessible and high quality.”
Hart said that the conversations between Lifespan and Brown “have no immediate impact on care delivery in the state.”
Dean Ashish Jha of the School of Public Health was not available to offer comment on the new affiliation agreement. University Spokesperson Brian Clark declined to comment until the affiliation agreement is finalized.
While Lifespan and Brown are pursuing a deeper relationship, they stressed that the new agreement is not a revival of the Brown-endorsed 2022 proposed merger between Lifespan and Care New England. The proposal was withdrawn after Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha P’22 rejected the organizations’ application.
“There is neither desire nor directive to resurrect merger discussions,” McCarthy wrote.
While some community members came out in support of the proposed merger as a step toward cohesion and collaboration, others cited concerns about increased prices, program cuts and decreased accessibility of care, The Herald previously reported. Had the deal gone through, the new system would have employed 67% of the state’s hospital registered nurses, controlled 79% of in-patient psychological services and dominated 80% of the market for in-patient hospital care.
Brown was not a legal partner in the merger proposal but did commission a report that posited the benefits of a merged system. If the deal had been approved, the University would have had voting membership on the Board of Directors and provided funding to the system, The Herald previously reported.
Many of those who provided recommendations for the 2022 merger proposal could not be reached for comment about the new agreement. The Rhode Island Foundation, which organized a committee to develop a report on the potential consequences of the merger, declined to comment on the new affiliation agreement until more details about the proposed partnership are released.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote from McCarthy. The Herald regrets the error.
Ciara Meyer is a Senior Staff Writer covering the Beyond Brown beat. She is from Saratoga Springs, New York and plans on concentrating in Statistics and English nonfiction. In her free time, she loves scrapbooking and building lego flowers.