WOONSOCKET â Landmark Medical Center said it was sure it would meet the new application deadline set for yesterday by regulators empowered to approve its planned merger with the Steward Health Care System, but there was no word yet on whether the application is considered complete.
âWe will meet this deadline,â Landmark spokesman Bill Fischer said yesterday afternoon. âTheyâve asked us to address a number of issues and we believe we have. Weâre hopeful the documents weâve been asked to provide will meet the regulatorsâ request.â
After twice extending the deadline, Health Director David Fine on Dec. 22 gave Landmark and Steward two more weeks to supply unspecified information he said was essential for the regulators to continue considering Stewardâs application to acquire Landmark.
While Steward and Landmark largely stayed out of the fray, the United Nurses & Allied Professionals, Landmarkâs largest employees union, criticized Fine for threatening to prematurely terminate consideration of the vital merger for Landmark, the cityâs second-largest employer.
The buyout of the financially struggling hospital, in receivership since June 2008, is seen as the longtime community hospital's last hope for survival.
Since UNAPâs publicity campaign, including a series of newspaper ads pressuring Governor Chafee to intervene, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine and other city officials have met privately with the governor, seeking assurances that the regulators will give the proposed merger a fair hearing. Representatives of Steward and Landmark have also met with Chafee, though few details have emerged about what took place at that session.
Under the stateâs Hospital Conversions Act, the deal must be approved by the state director of health and the attorney general. The statute says the regulators have 30 days from the time of receiving the application to decide whether itâs complete, allowing the review to begin in earnest.
Landmark and Steward initially filed their application in late October, but the regulators have twice asked for more paperwork.
The process has lasted far less time so far than was allowed when Care New England and Lifespan were considering a merger several years ago. That review dragged on for about two years before the parties eventually walked away from the deal. Only one hospital merger has ever taken place under the HCA â that of Fatima and St. Josephâs.
If Fine and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin decide that, this time, Landmarkâs application is complete, the next phase of the review involves a public airing of the proposal. The regulators have up to six months to hold a series of hearings to gather comment on the pros and cons of the deal before making a decision.
The health department did not return several telephone inquiries yesterday regarding the status of the application, but Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for Kilmartin, said the attorney generalâs office did receive the requested information but hasnât been able to make a determination yet on whether the application is complete.
Based in Boston, Steward is a for-profit hospital chain that recently acquired most of the health care facilities previously operated by Caritas Christi Health Care in Massachusetts. Steward initially acquired six community hospitals in the chain, formerly owned by the Archdiocese of Boston, and his since gone on to acquire several more in the Bay State.