As a Rhode Islander who cares about improving access to cutting-edge cancer treatment in my state, I am optimistic about the potential merger of Rhode Island’s Lifespan and Care New England Health System, with Massachusetts’s Partners HealthCare.
Hear me out...
I’m a Rhode Islander. Four generations of my family, including my son were all born at Women & Infants’ Hospital. My family has been involved with The Miriam Hospital since it was founded, and my mother has worked there nearly my whole life. We sail away on the Block Island Ferry, walk through the trails at Lincoln Woods, and we root for the Pawsox at McCoy.
The longest I’ve spent outside Rhode Island was eight weeks at a summer camp in Maine, when I was 12. As far as I’m concerned, the sun rises over Narragansett Bay and sets into the school-is-cancelled hills of Foster and Glocester.
Years ago, after riding in a bike-a-thon that raised money for a Massachusetts hospital, my wife and I decided we did not like shipping our effort up to Boston, so we co-founded LIFEcycle, a charity raises money for cancer treatment here, in Rhode Island. We’re emotionally invested and philanthropically dedicated to Rhode Island and its health care.
If a homer like me can embrace our state motto and look with Hope at this potential merger with our neighbor to the north, so can you.
Healthcare is expensive and complicated. This is true for patients, for practitioners, and for hospitals. It was this reality that led to the creation of each of these hospital systems in the mid-90s.
Looking at this as a patient, I think of the top notch care I received at multiple local hospitals through three different surgeries myself, and in seeing the care my wife received when delivering our son. Yet, when each of my grandfathers needed the best care, their local doctors referred them to Boston. So, I'm intrigued by the opportunity to import excellent healthcare to pair with that which is already delivered at our hospitals. And Rhode Island will export our great care to Massachusetts in the same way. Hospitals in both states would then have access to two Ivy League medical universities, in Harvard and Brown, and the innovation and resources they bring.
Separate from patient care, I see the strongest and most obvious case for a merger. There is tremendous financial upside to the organizations with a trickle down effect that will pay off on proverbial Main Street, or Reservoir Ave, or Post Road. Lifespan is Rhode Island’s largest employer, and CNE is our second. Partners is more than three times their size, combined. As one organization, the three would rank in the top 100 largest companies in the nation. The purchasing power and economies of scale that come with quadrupling your size are tremendous.
Think of the unit cost difference between buying a Charleston Chew at the checkout counter at Almacs versus buying a case of them at BJ’s Wholesale Club. All the expenses that are incurred by any business are incurred by non-profits, even hospitals; lightbulbs, toilet paper, food for the cafeterias, printer paper, etc. Also, hospitals spend a lot of money on high cost items that will drop significantly; MRI machines, surgical equipment, and the like.
I know there is skepticism around bigger being better when it comes to business. Big box stores hurt mom-and-pops, then Amazon came along and hurt big box stores. Look no farther than the headlines a few months ago when Benny’s announced it was closing after generations of being our go-to store for just about anything. This fear of monopoly does not apply to hospital systems; at least in my opinion. They are non-profits. The men and women running the business side are focused on the budget so they can maximize what they can do with the funds they have available. They grow to bring costs down to maximize the quality of care. Their profit is reinvested in our health, not in their bank accounts.
This merger is a great opportunity for growth; for a potential new model of delivering world class care that is available locally, throughout a region. This merger can be the innovation that kick starts a long overdue change to the healthcare industry.
This merger builds hope.