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A Look Back on Lifespan-Care New England Drama as Systems Pursue Merger Again

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   September 16, 2020

Lifespan and Care New England have had an on-again, off-again relationship when it comes to a potential merger.

The board of directors for both Lifespan and Care New England (CNE) have voted to move forward with merger plans and signed a letter of intent on September 9, according to a Lifespan press release.

The organizations have a history of collaboration, most recently on initiatives to serve healthcare workers in Rhode Island during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Lifespan and CNE have had an on-again, off-again relationship when it comes to a potential merger between the two organizations. The following timeline outlines when recent merger talks first began to current developments. 

  • Lifespan joined merger talks with CNE and Boston-based Partners HealthCare in February 2018. CNE and Partners approached Lifespan to explore how the three healthcare providers could work together.
  • In October 2018, Lifespan decides to pull out of the three-way talks due to being unable to come to an agreement with Partners, despite working "creatively and tirelessly" toward the partnership, said Lifespan's chairman of the board of directors Lawrence A. Aubin Sr. Despite the failure to agree, CNE and Partners told the Providence Journal they would "remain in communication with Lifespan."  
  • In June 2019, Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo "ordered a new round of merger talks between Lifespan and [CNE]" to see whether merging was feasible and to keep the organizations’ services in Rhode Island. Partners withdrew its plans to acquire CNE "to give this effort the best possible chance for success and to provide maximum flexibility to the governor and the leadership of [Partners, Lifespan, and CNE]" but kept the door open for future talks, according to a statement from Partners President and CEO Dr. Anne Klibanski.
  • In July 2019, CNE called off merger talks with Lifespan, the reasons for which CNE President and CEO James E. Fanale, MD, and board chair Charles R. Repucci said were because of "the potential deal's capital requirements, the expected financial stability of the combined system, antitrust considerations, the community's needs, and other factors."
  • But a letter written by Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo to Repucci in August 2019 suggested the reason for the called-off merger in July between CNE and Lifespan was due to a disagreement on who should be installed as CEO of the merged organization. 
  • According to NBC News 10 WJAR, Lifespan and CNE recently "discovered they had more in common than they realized," after both regularly appearing on WPRO radio, and merger talks between Lifespan and CNE resumed again in June 2020.

If the merger does go through, Lifespan and CNE will join as one combined nonprofit health system. Due to Lifespan's current partnership with Brown University, the merged organization would include an academic medical center, as well as seven hospitals to serve New England.

"By working together, Lifespan, CNE, and Brown University can create a fully integrated academic healthcare system for the people of Rhode Island," Lifespan President and CEO Timothy J. Babineau, MD, said in a statement. "Combining our investment in our physicians, clinical staff, researchers, technology and other health care staff will greatly help us continue to fulfill our mission of providing world-class health care to our patients, advancing medical discoveries and serving as a vital economic engine for our state."

"After careful consideration, there is clear recognition of the value of a more formal relationship. Overall benefit, regarding the capabilities and reach of what is possible for the health care of our local communities, has been defined with a clear, high-level vision of what could be possible," Fanale said in a statement.

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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