By JOHN HOWELL
Legislative action enabling Kent Hospital and its larger entity, Care New England, to remain sustainable non profit institutions came down to two considerations for House Speaker K. …
Legislative action enabling Kent Hospital and its larger entity, Care New England, to remain sustainable non profit institutions came down to two considerations for House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi: community healthcare and jobs.
“You have both here,” Shekarchi told an assembly of Kent Hospital employees, union officials and Charles Reppucci, chair of the CNE Board of Directors Tuesday morning from the hospital board room.
Shekarchi played a key role in the allocation of $11 million to CNE of the $45 million that the state budgeted from State Fiscal Recovery funds to support hospitals. Overall, Shekarchi said financial assistance to CNE is “north of $20 million.”
“This is not a gift,” said Shekarchi, “you earned it.” He added it was fortunate the state had the funds to help.
In a show of appreciation, CNE brought together its people, giving Shekarchi a tour of the hospital and a welcome spotlight in his bid for reelection. The Warwick representative faces a Democratic primary and, should he win that, a contest from a Republican in the General Election. Speakers applauded Shekarchi’s leadership but offered few specifics other that citing cooperative efforts with Brown University and other healthcare institutions to keep CNE and Kent Hospital independent.
While he didn’t recite the details, Shekarchi provided an outline of state budget actions impacting CNE. He said State Fiscal Recovery funds are a one-time appropriation but that legislation improving reimbursements will not only help CNE but healthcare systems statewide for years to come. This includes inpatient and outpatient 5 percent rate increases at an added $12.5 million system wide above what the law would have required; an increase in managed care payments for pregnancy and birth expenses by 20 percent at an added cost of $14.5 million of which $5.7 million would come from the general fund and the inclusion of funding for graduate medical education of which $1 million would go to CNE and Lifespan each and $500,000 to Landmark Hospital.
Legislators also required the federal Medicaid agency, CMS, the process to assess the state hospital license fee.
“As part of this budget we realigned our uncompensated care payments to fiscal years of the grant awards – this undoes an accounting manoeuver from the last fiscal year that will make longer term creative hospital financing solutions possible,” reads the memo.
CNE board chair Reppucci thanked Shekarchi for his wise counsel and spoke of deliberations leading up to the vote to stay independent.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
After the Federal Trade Commission and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha nixed the merger of CNE and Lifespan principally because of the commanding size of the combined systems, CNE was approached by for profit healthcare systems. This sparked concerns the system would be split up, of the loss of jobs and loss of services.
In a letter published in the Beacon, Kent ICU nurse and president of the nurses union at the hospital, Trish Criner MSN, RN, BC, accused legislators of being silent on the precarious situation at Kent (the hospital was losing between $2 million and $3 million monthly) and called on them to act. The letter didn’t go unnoticed. Shekarchi made that point when CNE announced the vote to remain independent and he disclosed legislative actions benefit healthcare systems. And he mentioned Criner again on Tuesday.
Speaking Tuesday Criner said, “This is great news! Instead of selling our hospital to a for profit chain that will only serve to line the pockets of out of state for profit hospital chains, enrich executives and pay dividends of Wall Street venture capital firms at the expense of quality patient care, employee pay, benefits and staffing levels, we can continue to serve our community as a Rhode Island based non-profit hospital. Our only mission is to continue to provide the great quality of patient care our community has relied upon.”
She said a top priority for the union for the past five years has been “keeping our hospital out of the hands of greedy for profit hospital chains.”
Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, president and chief operating officer of Kent Hospital, lauded the hospital staff and the support of the General Assembly. Unlike other medical institutions, Kent did not close units during the pandemic in an effort to provide a galaxy of medical services to the community even though usage dropped and the hospital was faced with providing services without the volume to offset costs.
Lynn Blais RN, president of United Nurses and Healthcare Professionals (UNAP), the state’s largest health care union, made no bones over declaring the union’s endorsement of Shekarchi for reelection. Shekarchi didn’t let her words go unnoticed.
“Thank you,” he said, “I need it.”
Apart from politics, Shekarchi said legislators recognized the “common good” of preserving the institutions and “bringing people together to get things done.”
CNE board member Joseph McGair summed up remarks: “At the end of the day we stand alone.”
“Standing alone is the best thing,” affirmed Maribeth Williamson, vice chair of the CNE board.
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