By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE – When Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein spoke from the bench on Sept. 14, approving a memorandum of understanding between Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Landmark Medical Center, he offered his candid appraisal of the current situation in saga that has gone on more than four years.
“The court recognizes that, to have reached this point, is the result of missteps – by all of the parties involved,” Silverstein said. “How we reached this point is nor presently the court’s concern. Getting us beyond this point – where there is viability [for the survival] for the hospital – is the primary purpose of this court at this juncture.”
At the Sept. 12 hearing on the issue, Silverstein said that his decision would need to “lead to the hospital’s acquisition by Steward [Health Care] – or by someone else,” an indication that the deal for Landmark to be purchased by Steward, the Boston-based, for-profit hospital system owned by a private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, may be in jeopardy.
With the Sept. 30 deadline set by the Rhode Island attorney general’s office fast approaching to close the deal, Steward has remained mum on its intentions. Numerous phone calls and e-mails during the past two weeks to Christopher Murphy, spokesman for Steward, have gone unanswered.
The mediation between Steward and Blue Cross has been “wrapped up,” according to Blue Cross spokeswoman Kim Reingold. “Blue Cross is willing to continue to negotiate in good faith for contract terms that would fairly reimburse Steward for health care services to Blue Cross members at Landmark,” she said.
When asked whether the deal with Steward was in jeopardy, Jonathan N. Savage, the special master for Landmark, told the Providence Business News: “It’s too early for me to answer that question for you.”
Bill Fischer, the spokesman for Landmark and the special master, in response to questions about the status of the deal, said that he did not and could not speak for Steward. “I’m not in a position to comment on negotiations or the status of negotiations,” he said. In regard to the approaching Sept. 30 deadline, Fischer said he had not heard anything regarding Steward’s interest in possibly extending the deadline. “I’m in a wait-and-see mode,” he said. “I’ve been involved in this for four and a half years. There have been a significant number of deadlines that have been extended to keep it moving.”
During this period of silence on Landmark, Steward has continued to be very active in pursuing both doctors and physician groups in Massachusetts. In early September, Steward signed a 10-year agreement with Hawthorn Medical Associates, a for-profit physician group that serves the New Bedford and Fall River communities. Hawthorn chose to leave Partners HealthCare six years ahead of its current agreement.