Steward: Savior Or Scavenger In Rhode Island?

There's much talk of hospital takeovers at the Rhode Island State House. (Mr. Ducke/flickr)

If you walk the marble hallways of the Rhode Island State House this week, chances are you’ll hear someone talking about Steward Healthcare.

Word is that the for-profit hospital chain that has expanded rapidly in Massachusetts may be going down the same path in the Ocean State.

You might recall that Steward’s plans to buy a small community hospital in northern Rhode Island have been on and off for more than a year. In the latest twist, Steward has an agreement to acquire Landmark Medical Center that hinges on changes in a Rhode Island law. Steward wants the state to remove a restriction that says for-profit corporations have to wait three years after buying one hospital before they can purchase another.

Rhode Island state senator Roger Picard says he’s pressing the change to save Landmark, his hometown hospital, and others that are struggling in Rhode Island. Picard says closing Landmark would mean the loss of 1,200 direct jobs and possibly another 800 jobs at companies that serve the hospital. Landmark is in Woonsocket, a city on the brink of bankruptcy, in the state with the highest unemployment rate in New England.

Picard says with Steward, Landmark could become part of “a whole different kind of health care delivery system in Rhode Island.” New ownership, argues Picard, “will add competition, will bring in vital capital and could help a lot of our community hospitals that are really struggling to get assistance on their own.”

Some legislators expect Steward to bid on two other hospitals (Roger Williams Medical Center and Saint Joseph Health Services in the CharterCARE system) if the three-year limit is lifted and possibly Westerly and Memorial hospitals as well.

That limit appears to be on its way to oblivion. According to the Providence Business News:

“The R.I. Senate Health and Human Services Committee, by a 5-0 vote on Wednesday afternoon, approved the latest amended version of legislation changing the Hospital Conversions Act, sending it to a scheduled floor vote by the Senate on Thursday.

Steward Health Care got much of what it lobbied for – including the elimination of a three-year waiting period for for-profit hospitals in purchasing additional nonprofit hospitals in the Rhode Island market after completing an initial hospital purchase.”

Edward Quinlan, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, says every hospital in the state is talking to someone about a merger or affiliation. “We are seeing pressures that are unprecedented,” says Quinlan. “The ability to continue to provide services and survive on margins that are less than half of one percent is increasingly difficult.”

But other lawmakers and health care advocates worry that if the legislature changes the deal so that Steward can buy more hospitals, the company will stop performing more advanced services or close some facilities altogether and send patients to Boston. Either way, Rhode Island loses more jobs.

Steward spokesman Chris Murphy says it would not make sense for the chain to invest $30 million, as it has agreed to in Landmark, and then close the hospital. Landmark, he adds, is busy but it just isn’t receiving an adequate reimbursement for the many Medicaid patients it sees. Murphy won’t say if Steward plans to bid on other community hospitals in Rhode Island. The network supports changing Rhode Island’s Hospital Conversion Act to “remove a barrier to investment at a critical time.”

Some industry analysts suggest there’s another reason Steward wants to change the state’s hospital acquiistion rules: so it can sell a group of hospitals, not just one, when it is ready.

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  • tater991

    Already a mess in MA.  A friend who is a nurse complains about juice for diabetics being limited, blanket and room temperatures being turned down…”for profit” does not always = patient satisfaction or quality care.  Different bottom line interest indeed.  Good luck.

    • Drawbridges

      They.need new people at landmark.the nurses don’t care,the laboratory.staff.are rude,not certified,they don’t follow standard precautions,patients are a bother.some one come in fire these people,let’s start fresh.

      • Diesalbaby

        Draw bridges i couldnt agree more. I was hired there. As a phlebotomist. I am ascp certified. I wad horrified at what i saw. The new steward lab supervisor melissa pacheco did nothing wih my complaints. She said i took things to the extreme. I told jer phlebs were taking off their gloves going in arteries etc. I had to have the hospital bring in butterflies amd heel warmers for difficult draws. These moron phlebs didnt even use them. I watched them vilolate hippa policoes look up coworkers test. Etc. I was told i was a trouble maker. If watching out for my patients makes me a trouble maker so be it.
        In the four months i was thwre i received edible arrangements from my patients. Phone calls saying how great and compassionate i was rowards them. One woman even refused to have anyone draw her but me. She was told as a cancer patient there are no butterflies. The hospital is broke. She stuck my poor patient twice with a 22 gauge needle. Blew her veins. As if the woman isnt going through enough. She voiced her complaint and they did nothing about it.
        Instead i was let go because i complained too much about things i saw.
        The majority of the staff are clueless. They have one cna for a whole floor etc.
        I actually caught a pt eloping. Told the dr. .he said r you sure. Hes in plain clothes.. Umm yes i just drew him ten minutes ago.
        This man was ill and bleeding from his ears. He was just going to leave. Dumb ass dr and staff. Close this place down. Go to ri hospital twenty minutes away. That 20 min drive can save your life