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Partners and Care New England mega-merger in talks to add Lifespan into collaboration

While there are no specific mentions of a three-way merger, Lifespan CEO expressed excitement over potential partnership.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Butler Hospital, RI, part of Care New England Credit: Google Street ViewButler Hospital, RI, part of Care New England Credit: Google Street View

Another layer to the highly anticipated, and somewhat controversial, mega-merger has emerged as Rhode Island based system Lifespan appears to have entered the already-ongoing deal with Massachusetts-based Partners and Care New England, though right now the details are not clear.

"Care New England and Partners HealthCare have approached Lifespan and will begin formal discussions to explore how all three healthcare providers might work together to strengthen patient care delivery in Rhode Island," a joint statement said. "By combining the talent, experience and resources of our like-minded, provider-based organizations, the organizations envision creating a national model that fully leverages the integration and coordination of care."

[Also: Brown University, Prospect HealthCare throw joint hat in the ring for possible merger with Care New England]

While there is not specific reference to a three-way merger, it is clear that the plans may well involve Lifespan in some way. A statement from Lifespan's CEO physician Timothy Babineau at a minimum alludes to a partnership of some kind.

"I am excited about what this could mean; for our patients, our mission and the Rhode Island and regional health care delivery system," Babineau noted. "Lifespan has always been interested in partnering with like-minded, superb organizations, and I look forward to the discussions and the potential to continually improve the seamless and coordinated care we deliver to our patients."

The prospect of a Rhode Island based system taking a central position comes as a welcome revelation to members of the Brown University community, who expressed concern at the the idea of the Massachusetts giant merging with Care New England out of concern that specialty care would see an exodus to Massachusetts, complicating access to such services and also raising costs. It also caused worry over the future of Brown's medical school and the ongoing partnership it has enjoyed with Care New England facilities as teaching locations.

Brown University President Christina Paxson said in her own comments that Brown sees Lifespan entering the talks as encouraging and they hope to be included in these discussions.

"We have advocated for this kind of within-state dialogue for years," Paxson said. "Collaboration between Care New England, Lifespan and Brown is necessary for the creation of an integrated academic medical center. We continue to be concerned about the impact of the acquisition of Care New England by Massachusetts-based Partners -- and now a possible business relationship between Partners and Lifespan -- on the cost of and access to healthcare in the state. Previously, we have noted that the acquisition of Care New England by Partners could undermine competition in the healthcare market and lead to higher healthcare costs. A business relationship between Partners and Lifespan that further consolidates market power could have additional adverse effects on Rhode Islanders."

The merger deal is far from closed. Partners and CNE have yet to actually compose and sign a definitive agreement but are working on the language and formulating plans.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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