WOONSOCKET — Union employees at Landmark Medical Center and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island have voted overwhelmingly to issue a strike notice if RegionalCare Hospital Partners of Tennessee emerges as the successful bidder for the facilities.
Chris Callaci, general counsel for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5067, said representatives of RegionalCare met with the union several times this week in attempts to reach a collective bargaining agreement, as ordered by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein. But Callaci said UNAP and RegionalCare are no closer to the goal.
“There's been no real substantive movement on their part,” Callaci said. “They want to draw their profits off the backs of the people who provide direct patient care at the hospital.”
RegionalCare is one of three for-profit companies vying for Landmark and the affiliated RHRI in North Smithfield. The bidders, including Prime Healthcare of California and Transition Healthcare, also of Tennessee, are under court orders to eliminate contingencies from their offers that would allow them to walk away from the deal after the bid is awarded.
RegionalCare wanted the right to walk away if it was unable to come to terms with the union. Transition wanted similar flexibility if it was unable to negotiate a reimbursement agreement with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island.
Silverstein gave the bidders until today to rectify the problems and is expected to disclose on Tuesday whether any of the current suitors will be allowed to purchase the struggling hospital, which marks three years in receivership next month.
RegionalCare is the only remaining bidder for the two hospitals that has been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with UNAP.
“Our members will not issue a strike notice if either Transition or Prime wins the bid, because unlike Regional, those entities have recognized the importance of respecting and retaining our dedicated staff,” said UNAP President Jan Peso.
“We look forward to working with either Transition or Prime in continuing to provide quality care to the community well into the future.”
The strike notice is the latest salvo UNAP has lobbed in RegionalCare's direction since court-supervised competition for the hospital began last month. RegionalCare purchased a series of full-page newspaper ads to counter UNAP's public attacks on the company as a “corporate shark” circling the waters of the local health care market. UNAP says its major disagreements with RegionalCare are increases in health care costs the company proposes — hikes so onerous, the union says, they would more than eat up any pay raises in the RegionalCare pipeline.
While the dollar amounts the bidders offer for the hospital do not represent the purchase price, all three have pledged to pump tens of millions into Landmark over the next few years. Adjusted for charity care, commitments to personnel and long-term capital investments, Silverstein said last week that Transition's offer boils down to some $90 million; RegionalCare's, $70 million; and Prime HealthCare, $51 million.
Though Prime and Transition were both instructed to seek agreements with Blue Cross, they have far different views of the role private insurance would play in hospital operations. While Transition wants Blue Cross to be a significant part of its income stream, Transition would draw virtually all the hospital's revenues from Medicaid and Medicare, a model Silverstein finds unacceptable.
The operator of a dozen hospitals in California, Prime is under investigation for inflating Medicare claims after reporting unusually high rates of septicemia among elderly patients, but that issue was not the focus of Silverstein's concern.
He said Prime's reliance on government insurance would push too many patients covered by private insurance outside the local area for health care.
Another loose end for some of the bidders is the question of a tax treaty with the city of Woonsocket. Representatives of RegionalCare and Transition both met with officials this week to talk taxes, but Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik says it's Silverstein's prerogative to divulge the terms.