By this time next year, the independent community hospital in Rhode Island could be a thing of the past.
The last of the independents, South County Hospital in South Kingstown, is now actively exploring a merger with a larger health care provider and could choose a partner as early as this spring.
Financially, the 100-bed nonprofit hospital has been one of the stronger health care providers in the state, but South County leaders say the changes overtaking the nation’s health care system are forcing all organizations to evolve.
By actively and openly talking to potential partners, South County hopes to find an advantageous arrangement on its own terms, before circumstances dictate one.
“We started this about two years ago with an assessment of the future of health care in Rhode Island, the community’s needs and how we thought South County would fare given all the changes,” Louis Giancola, president and CEO of South County Hospital Healthcare System said in a phone interview. “We chose relating to a nonprofit system and working with someone within our geographic area. We also established a set of principles relating to the things we hold sacred in terms of quality and community.”
Last February South County reached out to four health care systems – Lifespan, Care New England, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Southcoast Health System – to see if they were interested in a partnership. All but Lawrence + Memorial indicated they were.
Then in December, South County described what it was looking for in any partnership and asked the three organizations to respond this month with more detailed merger proposals.
Giancola said South County is now analyzing the responses and the board of trustees expects to choose one of the bidders to enter into exclusive negotiations this spring.
If those talks prove fruitful, a merger could realistically be executed and approved by state regulators by the first half of 2015.