Fifty-five testify in support of Woonsocket hospital purchase

Fifty-five testify in support of Woonsocket hospital purchase

WOONSOCKET - If there's anyone left in northern Rhode Island who is opposed to the purchase of Landmark Medical Center by Prime Health Services, they must have stayed home from Monday night's hearing with state regulators - or held their tongue.

Not a single naysayer addressed the panel, in town to gauge community support of the purchase by the for-profit California hospital chain.

"We are here to listen to the community," said Jodi Bourque, special assistant Attorney General. Bourque sat on the "audience" of regulators, charged with reviewing the purchase under the state Hospital Conversions Act, beside Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Director of Health Michael Fine, and Michael Dexter, chief of the Office of Health Systems Development at Rhode Island Department of Health.

"It wasn't lost on me as we drove by Landmark that there was a full parking lot," said Kilmartin. "That there were three rescues and one fire truck in the emergency bin. That in and of itself speaks volumes of the hospital's importance to this community."

It is the second such trip the group has made to Woonsocket.

In 2012, a board with the same mission listened to testimony supporting a proposed purchase by a prior suitor, Steward Health Systems. That deal eventually fell through, leaving continued uncertainty at the fiscally troubled facility, now in its fifth year of receivership.

"Most of our purchases are of hospitals that are in financial distress or bankruptcy," said Luis Leon, president of operations for Prime, a chain currently including 23 hospitals in five states. "Most of the hospitals that we have today we were successfully able to transition operations from a negative one to a positive one, both in quality of care, financially and stability for the communities we serve."

Landmark President Richard Charest said that the event was like a bit like "groundhog day."

"For the last five years, 1,100 employees remain focused on the cause of preserving a high quality hospital in northern Rhode Island despite having to address the operating constraints of being under court protection and the personal challenge of not having had a raise in the last five years," said Charest.

The mix of 55 speakers from the public to address the board included a fair share of local politicians, along with health care workers, former patients and representatives from industries with economic concerns, such as Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades.

All testified on the importance of keeping Landmark open, many sharing personal stories of how the facility had saved lives.

"Northern Rhode Island needs to have a hospital available to its residents, as well as to those in nearby Massachusetts," said Shirley Ayers, who identified herself as a lifelong resident of the city. "I personally would have one less friend, had he been taken to Providence. The closure would be medically, economically and morally wrong."

Many also expressed concern for the city's elderly population, and for residents who may be unwilling or unable to travel to visit a sick spouse.

"Some of our residents are very fragile and lack transportation," said City Council member Robert Moreau. "Providence is a long way away when seconds count."

None of the speakers questioned the logic of the sale, which, if approved, will result in creation of the state's first for-profit hospital. Prime has extended the struggling facility a $5 million line of credit, and has proposed purchasing both Landmark and its sister facility, the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island, for nearly $63 million.

The meeting, held at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon at Woonsocket High School, was attended by more than 100 residents and lasted three and one-half hours. The DOH will continue accepting written remarks until Oct. 7 and must issue a decision by Oct. 28.