By Richard Asinof
WOONSOCKET – The public will finally get a chance on Monday, April 9, to comment of the proposed sale of Landmark Medical Center to Steward Health Care at Woonsocket City Hall, at one of two hearings, from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. or from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
If you cannot attend, you can still send written testimony to the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I Attorney General’s office until April 20.
But, as Assistant Attorney General Jody Bourque argued at a March 9 hearing before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein, state regulators will have less than two weeks to cull through public testimony before the current May 2 deadline for the Asset Purchase Agreement, allowing Steward, the for-profit hospital system based in Boston that currently owns 10 other hospitals, to complete the transaction. The application to buy Landmark is currently under review by state regulators.
Until now, much of the drama and dialogue has occurred in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein during a nearly four-year soap opera since the financially troubled hospital was first placed in receivership in June of 2008, with a recurring plot line – hospital meets suitor, hospital gets suitor, hospital loses suitor.
Some of the drama has shifted this year to the R.I. General Assembly, where Steward, having hired two of Rhode Island’s venerable lobbyists, Joseph Walsh and Robert Goldberg, has successfully put forth an amended version of the Hospital Conversions Act so that they can move forward with purchasing other financially troubled non-profit community hospitals in Rhode Island without having to wait for three years to do so, once the purchase of Landmark is approved by state regulators.
The proposed legislation would also create the ability for a for-profit system such as Steward to make use of an expedited review process in purchasing a non-profit hospital if that hospital was deemed “financially distressed.”
The amended bill was debated at a hearing held by the R.I. Senate Health and Human Services Committee on April 4.
There are currently two hospitals – Westerly Hospital and Landmark Medical Hospital – in receivership. St. Joseph’s Health Services of Rhode Island, a CharterCARE health partner, is also reported to be in severe financially difficulty, having had its bond ratings downgraded to CCC from B in October of 2011.
Steward spokesman Christopher Murphy recently sat down with Providence Business News, along with Jonathan Duffy, president of Duffy & Shanley, the public relations firm hired by Steward, saying that as the sale moves toward completion, Steward will be taking on more and more of the communications effort, transitioning away from Bill Fischer, the spokesman hired by Jonathan Savage, the court-appointed special master.