Sale would give Fatima Hospital the capital it needs for improvements

Sale would give Fatima Hospital the capital it needs for improvements

Sebastiano Castro, a data support specialist at Fatima Hospital, and Stacy Roberts, a benefit analyst, walk one of the halls that will be redone if the sale of the hospital goes through. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)
Officials hope lawsuit doesn't delay merger

NORTH PROVIDENCE - A pending sale of St. Joseph Health Services to the for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings will mean big things for Our Lady of Fatima Hospital both in terms of long-term financial solvency and facility improvements, said the hospital's chief this week.

Fatima President and CEO Ken Belcher told The Breeze there is a general sense of optimism throughout the hospital that the sale to Prospect would be good for the hospital. This has been a "long and thorough process" since 2011, said Belcher, and everyone here is ready for its conclusion.

"I think there's a lot of excitement," he said.

Prospect's proposal to pay off $34 million in debt accrued by Fatima's parent organization, CharterCare Health Partners, as well as chip in an additional $11 million in working capital, will put Fatima on a path to a more prosperous future, said Belcher, and allow it to keep serving the people of North Providence and the surrounding area with great health services and jobs.

Officials from the nonprofit group CharterCare Health Partners and Affiliates, the umbrella organization for St. Joseph, signed a letter of intent last spring to merge with Prospect Medical Holdings.

The Office of the Attorney General, which is currently reviewing the proposal and is due to offer a decision within weeks, accepted public comment at a meeting Monday evening.

Capital renovation projects that would be made possible by the sale include:

* A fa?ßade restoration on the front of the hospital;

* A new front vestibule to allow the handicapped to access the building that way;

* New and improved hallways;

* A new backup generator;

* New flooring, wall treatments and other cosmetic improvements;

* Upgrades to patient rooms;

* And eventual clinical upgrades and the "behind-the-scenes" workings of the hospital.

Employees will see little or no difference in the day-to-day operations of the hospital, said Belcher, as Fatima will retain "a lot of local control."

The affiliation agreement between CharterCare and Prospect Medical Holdings takes out $15 million of expense for the first five years of operation, said Belcher. Though there will be some staffing reductions as part of the merger, they will likely be few and far between.

Hospital officials "take jobs" very seriously and see them as the last line item to look at, said Belcher. The hospital will actually see some staffing growth in some areas, he said. The hope is to "minimize" layoffs and to "maximize opportunities to add jobs." The hospital has left positions open as staff have left for whatever reason.

Relationships with existing vendors of the hospital remain "wonderful," said Belcher, and has been able to save on costs.

Last week it was revealed that representatives from Prime Healthcare Services, which owns Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, were suing CharterCare to get information about why it went with Prospect Medical Holdings as a buyer even though Prospect's bid was $10 million lower.

The Providence Journal reported last Friday that Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein had ordered CharterCare to hand over minutes from trustees' meetings, documents Attorney Gen. Peter Kilmartin had claimed were confidential. Officials from Prime are claiming representatives from CharterCare employed a "faulty procedure" when they rejected Prime's officer for the North Providence hospital, according to The Journal.

Belcher told The Breeze that CharterCare officials are hopeful that the suit from Prime won't delay a final decision on the merger. He didn't say why CharterCare went with Prospect Medical Holdings as a buyer, but said CharterCare officials "had a very thorough review process" and "haven't cut any corners."

Pursuant to the Hospital Conversions Act, the attorney general's office and Rhode Island Department of Health have 120 days, a period that commenced on Jan. 17, to review and evaluate the merger application to determine if the transaction may go forward.

In addition to Monday's public comments on the proposed merger, state officials will also accept written comments, which must be received by 4 p.m. on May 5 to allow for full consideration. Written comments may be submitted at the public informational meetings or may be forwarded to: Jodi Bourque, health care advocate at the Office of the Attorney General, 150 South Main St., Providence, RI 02903, or Michael Dexter, of the Office of Health System Development at the Department of Health, 3 Capitol Hill, Room 410, Providence, RI 02908.

Skip Smith, electrician at Fatima Hospital, fires up the emergency generator at the hospital last Friday. The hospital will add a new backup generator if a pending merger between CharterCare and Prospect Medical Holdings is approved.
The front facade of Fatima Hospital would also receive upgrades.