PAWTUCKET — A half-dozen speakers, all positive, came out to comment publicly on the proposed merger of The Memorial Hospital and Care New England Health System on Tuesday night.
A public informational meeting was sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General and Department of Health at Jenks Junior High School concerning the proposed transaction.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin noted that while the meeting wasn't mandated, the merger impacts the local area, and said both his office and the Department of Health, as the regulators, “wanted to listen to the community.” Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Department of Health, was also among the state officials in attendance.
The small fraction of the community that attended the meeting voiced strong support for the plan. From the president of the nurses' union to two satisfied patients—one a young mother and the other an 88-year-old man, all said they viewed the merger as the best way to maintain the quality of the 110-year-old Memorial Hospital and position it for survival.
Arthur Deblois, interim president and CEO of The Memorial Hospital, described how the changing health care environment was taking a toll on independent community hospitals, and said Memorial's board of directors realized the need to find a partner. He said a two-year search process led to Care New England, which not only shares the same vision in state-of-the-art patient services and health care models, but also can provide key financial stability.
Dennis Keefe, president and CEO of Care New England, spoke of the new era of health care reform that requires a different delivery system. This system, he said, is moving from a disease-based treatment model to one that focuses on wellness and prevention and includes behavioral services.
Keefe said the joining of the two hospitals “will provide an innovative, integrated health care delivery system” with an emphasis on “strong primary care.” He added that Care New England's “strong financial performance” will enable The Memorial Hospital to be a “workplace of choice” and a “strong employment presence.”
Among the speakers was Gilbert Slater, an 88-year-old Pawtucket resident who has been receiving care from the Memorial Hospital since having his tonsils out as a child. He said he had been in the hospital's family care program for over 20 years and had spent time in numerous departments. “They always treated me very well...like a human being,” Slater said. “The people around Pawtucket need this hospital. It would be a great loss if it didn't stay.”
Another satisfied customer was Kyla Coburn, a young mother who said she had been seeking a hospital that would provide a holistic birth experience. She said the doctors and nurses at Memorial had been supportive and intervened on her behalf with insurance providers so she could have the type of delivery she wanted. She added that she believed Care New England could help Memorial to “stay personal” and be a trend-setter in holistic health care.
Rita Brennan, a longtime nurse at The Memorial Hospital and president of United Nurses and Allied Professionals, Local 5082, said she could speak for the union membership in affirming support for the proposed affiliation of Memorial with Care New England.
Brennan said that she and the other health care professionals “all realize that our community hospital can no longer go it alone,” and said the merger would allow the facility to continue to operate as a full-service hospital and provide quality health care to the community for a long time to come.
Aaron Hertzberg, executive director of The Pawtucket Foundation, said the board of directors of the non-profit organization voted unanimously to support the planned merger. He noted that Memorial is the second largest employer in Pawtucket and that having access to quality health care “is an important part of the community.”
Hertzberg added that he and his wife had chosen to go to The Memorial Hospital for the birth of their daughter because they had felt comfortable in its community setting. He said that through the partnership with Care New England, he was confident that Memorial could continue offering its personalized brand of quality health care services to others.
The applications for a hospital conversion is currently under review by the Department of the Attorney General and the Department of Health. In addition to the comments transcribed at Tuesday's public meeting, written comments regarding the proposed transaction will continue to be accepted until 4 p.m. on June 14. Written comments may be sent to: Jodi Bourque, Health Care Advocate, Department of Attorney General, 150 South Main St., Providence, RI 02903 or to Michael Dexter, Chief, Office of Health System Development, Department of Health, Three Capitol Hill, Room 410, Providence, RI 02908.
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