By Jill Zorn
The fate of the five hospitals left hanging after Tenet Healthcare walked away from the deal to buy them is still uncertain, but news is beginning to surface about possible next steps.
Mergers on the Horizon
Four in-state non-profit hospital systems, as well as two out-of-state for-profit systems, are “courting” Eastern Connecticut Health Network, (ECHN) which includes Manchester and Rockville Hospitals. Convinced they cannot go it alone, ECHN is on track to make a merger decision by early June.
Going Solo (Sort of)
Bucking the merger trend, Bristol Hospital is considering remaining independent while seeking a closer affiliation with Yale New Haven Health System. It is exploring joining a “statewide integrated healthcare network Yale hopes to launch by the end of 2016.” Bristol hopes a closer relationship to Yale will help it be ready for anticipated new payment arrangements. The hospital plans to rely more on its own fundraising capabilities to meet its capital equipment needs.
One or Two Hospitals for Waterbury?
Meanwhile, it is “déjà vu all over again” for the two financially struggling hospitals in Waterbury.
Right now, each hospital is working to find its own merger partner. Companies interested in acquiring the hospitals have reportedly explored buying both of them or buying only one.
Governor Dan Malloy recently reached out to the Waterbury Republican American to say, “My message about Waterbury is that it is a one-hospital town…Whether it is for-profit or not-for-profit, we need a one-hospital solution that builds on the strength of both of the hospitals.” The response from the Mayor of Waterbury was swift, he prefers maintaining two campuses, although hopefully with one owner.
Previous efforts to merge the two hospitals have repeatedly ended in failure, first in 2008 and then again in 2012. One of the major stumbling blocks has been the inability to balance the religious mission of a catholic hospital with the need to maintain full reproductive rights in the Waterbury community.
Clash on Reproductive Services
The 2012 proposal, by an out-of-state for-profit company, sought to build one state-of-the art new building to serve the Waterbury area. As reported in CT Mirror, “The main stumbling block has been trying to provide reproductive services while respecting the ethical and religious directives of Catholic Health Services, which prohibit tubal ligations, vasectomies, contraceptive care and medically induced abortions.”
When Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and other women’s rights groups objected to the proposed solution of a separate women’s pavilion on both quality and cost grounds, the deal fell apart. The same need to maintain access to the full range of reproductive care will not go away, if a one hospital solution is sought – even though the economics of having one hospital clearly make sense.
The group MergerWatch was formed by women’s rights activists concerned about mergers involving Catholic hospitals that have the potential to limit access to reproductive health services. In 2013, they published a report, Miscarriage of Medicine, The Growth of Catholic Hospitals and the Threat to Reproductive Health Care. Now a project of health advocacy organization Community Catalyst, MergerWatch continues to remain vigilant about these mergers and the potential harm they can cause by restricting access to necessary care.
More Mergers in the Works
In other hospital news, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is awaiting regulatory approval of a proposed merger with national Catholic Hospital chain, Trinity Health, based in Michigan. The Hartford Business Journal reports they are in “deal-making mode”, including their proposed take-over of bankrupt Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs. St. Francis/Trinity is also listed as one of the possible systems seeking to take over ECHN.
Is This Good for CT Consumers?
As the foundation wrote recently in the executive summary of our report on hospital consolidations and conversions, “the preponderance of the evidence shows that when hospitals consolidate, price goes up, cost does not go down, quality does not improve, and access decreases”.
Yet, hospitals in Connecticut continue to pursue consolidation and/or for-profit conversions. We can only hope that efforts underway in the Connecticut General Assembly to bring greater transparency and greater oversight to these deals will be a step in the right direction to ensure they are in the best interest of the patients and tax payers of Connecticut.
To learn more:
Universal Health Care Foundation resources on the hospital consolidation in Connecticut: http://universalhealthct.org/resources/foundation-publications/changing-hospital-landscape-in-connecticut
Universal Health Care Foundation ongoing series of blog posts about hospitals: https://hub.universalhealthct.org/tag/hospitals/
Universal Health Care Foundation’s ongoing series of blog posts about health care legislation in the 2015 Connecticut General Assembly session: https://hub.universalhealthct.org/tag/legislative/