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WOONSOCKET â€” As expected, union employees of Landmark Medical Center and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island in North Smithfield voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a four-year contract with the parent company of Caritas Christi Health Care.
The vote came one day after a Superior Court judge approved the merger of Landmark Health Systems and Steward Health Care System of Boston, ending a long search for an acquisition partner for the struggling hospital group.
Poor relations with the union had been a sticking point for the only other qualified bidder for Landmark that was still at the table before Steward emerged unexpectedly last week as a potential suitor â€” RegionalCare Hospital Partners of Tennessee. The issue ultimately led Judge Michael Silverstein to throw out RegionalCare's offer.
â€śWe are very pleased with the commitment Steward has made to employees and their families, which is essential to retaining our skilled and experienced staff,â€ť said Jan Peso, president of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5067. â€śWe look forward to continuing to provide the highest quality of care to our patients well into the future.â€ť
Chris Callaci, general counsel for UNAP, did not not have firm figures but he said only â€śtwo or threeâ€ť of votes cast by the union were in opposition to the proposal. Members voted in three blocs at the Elks Club on Social Street on Wednesday. UNAP represents about half of the roughly 1,200 nurses and other professionals who provide direct patient care at Landmark and RHRI.
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The contract calls for a net 7 percent pay hike over four years, including a freeze the first year, followed by two percent in each of the following two years, and three percent in the fourth. The increase was erroneously reported as 9 percent over four years in Thursday's editions.
In addition, Callaci said, workers face no changes in health care coverage for 16 months. Later, they may join an in-house Caritas plan that would provide more comprehensive coverage with fewer out-of-pocket costs, a scenario Callaci called â€śquite remarkable.â€ť
Steward is the for-profit, health care arm of Cerberus Capital Management, a New York-based private equity firm that acquired the assets of Caritas Christi earlier this year in a deal worth $835 million. The initial acquisition included six hospitals previously owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, but since then Steward expanded its network in Massachusetts by purchasing three more hospitals, Callaci said.
Silverstein's order on Tuesday allows the special master who has been running the hospital to complete preliminary sales agreements with Steward, but final approval would be subject to regulatory review under the state's Hospital Conversions Act. The process could take months.