My Turn: Patrick J. Quinn: Don’t fall for Lifespan’s tricks

Women & Infants and Butler Hospitals, along with other affiliates that make up Care New England, have been vital parts of the Rhode Island community for generations. As the executive vice president of District 1199 SEIU New England, I have the honor of representing about 2,400 nurses and other health-care professionals who provide care at those facilities, along with other health-care providers across the state.

You will find no stronger advocate for our patients and their families than the hardworking 1199 members who show up every day to provide the best maternal, infant and mental-health care in Rhode Island.

RI_Women and Infants BldgWe are alarmed at Lifespan’s corporate campaign to portray itself as an advocate for Rhode Island health-care workers, patients and families. It is the direct care staff from Women & Infants and Butler hospitals, along with community allies, other unions and health-care reformers, who won the strong protections you’ll find in the Rhode Island Hospital Conversion Act, a national model for protecting patients, workers and communities.

The act ensures that any conversion of a hospital will be vetted by the state Department of Health and attorney general to protect continued local access to affordable care, protection of services for underserved populations, commitments to maintain and expand current health-care services, and a guarantee to protect good, local union jobs.

Meanwhile, Lifespan executives have a record of turning their backs on any part of our state health system but their own. They have been asked numerous times in recent years about merging or purchasing various health-care institutions in our state always to say no in hopes of a fire sale. They opposed legislation that protects patients by outlawing the dangerous practice of forcing clinical staff to work mandatory consecutive shifts, and they have relied heavily on out-of-state traveling nurses instead of investing in a robust nurse development and career advancement program. Despite sharing a campus with Care New England, Lifespan even attempted to unilaterally withdraw from shared clinical responsibilities, potentially putting cardiac patients at risk.

Lifespan’s history does not match its shallow rhetoric. It is disingenuous at best for it to campaign on mistruths and a contrived concern that an acquisition of another health-care system might diminish care.

Only months ago, Lifespan was at the table vying for its own Partners-Care New England deal. Now that it is no longer a part of the conversation, it appears determined to thwart all other sales as well. And why not?

If it were to take over Care New England, it would employ almost all of the state’s hospital-based registered nurses and have a near monopoly on care in Rhode Island — a frightening prospect for anyone but Lifespan’s bloated administration.

Lifespan’s dream of taking over Care New England would lead to job losses and consolidation of services. This is especially worrisome since Lifespan has a history of paying lower wages than Care New England to the majority of its health-care employees. Perhaps if it did not pay its “non-profit” CEO $2.5 million per year, it would have an ounce of credibility.

We will continue to monitor the acquisition closely, and we encourage the public to demand that regulators, policymakers and signatories act in the best interests of Rhode Islanders. The state is the largest purchaser of health services, and we should be an informed steward of tax dollars.

We evaluate all mergers using the criteria laid out in the Hospital Conversion Act: Will Partners maintain services in Rhode Island, will it respect our members’ hard-won rights, will it keep care affordable and accessible, will it invest in training and career ladders and will it maintain high-quality care for underserved populations?

Two of our state’s largest private-sector employers should never be allowed to merge.

We encourage others to tune out Lifespan’s misleading soundbites as we await the completion of the application and a subsequent public conversation around Partners’ commitment to Rhode Island. The future of our health-care system and our economy is too important.

Patrick J. Quinn is executive vice president of District 1199 SEIU New England.

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