The fate of several hospitals in the state and whether they remain solvent or dive headlong into bankruptcy may very well sit in the hands of state lawmakers.
Changes to the Hospital Conversions Act have already passed the Senate, leaving the House Corporations Committee to wrestle with the issue. The Senate-passed changes are advantageous to Massachusetts-based, for-profit hospital-operator Steward Health Care Services LLC. The company has made a bid to take over the nonprofit Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket and its affiliate, the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island in North Smithfield, both of which have had financial difficulties.
Prior to the May 24 hearing the committee proposed an amended bill with significant changes, making it similar to the Senate bill. That version removes a ban on for-profit hospitals from converting more than one Rhode Island nonprofit hospital to a for-profit in a three-year span. It also allows the R.I. Department of Health and Office of the Attorney General to impose conditions on any conversion, including those keeping the hospital’s ties to the local community. Lastly, it streamlines the application process.
The conversions act could pave the way for Steward to quickly purchase other hospitals in the state which are financially strapped, including The Westerly Hospital, which declared bankruptcy last December.
A concern that was voiced regarding the legislation was an arbitration procedure that said if any transacting party aggrieved by a final order of the department of health or the attorney general can submit to binding arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association.
“We are not sure if it is workable or not. The attorney general voiced concern that it would even pass constitutional muster,” said Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, chairman of the committee, who so far has held the bill for study.