WOONSOCKET — A few details of the changes in store for Landmark Medical Center if the sale of the hospital goes through have emerged from the state health department, including a name change that’s getting some lukewarm reviews from the locals.
Steward Health Care System of Boston would rename the Cass Avenue facility “Blackstone Medical Center.” Similarly, the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island, in North Smithfield, would become “Blackstone Rehabilitation Hospital.”
“This is not Blackstone,” said Bernice Jessie of Woonsocket. “Why would you call it that? We're right on the border of Blackstone, Massachusetts. It’ll be confusing.”
Marlene Gagnon, the owner of Harlequin Costumes on Main Street, was even more emphatic. “I don’t like it.”
“Maybe Blackstone Valley Medical Center, but Blackstone? I like Landmark,” she says.
The new names were included in an application for “change of effective control” of the hospital to Steward, filed with the state Department of Health late last month.
The application is a relatively small preliminary to the evaluation of Steward’s broader application for approval of the sale of the hospital, which is subject to a joint review by DOH and the attorney general under the Hospital Conversions Act.
The application for change of effective control hasn’t been approved yet, because the DOH is still seeking additional details about charity care, financial statements and other information from Steward, said DOH spokesman Peter Hanney.
But the application contains information about layoffs, the scope of Steward’s investment in Landmark, and other clues about how it intends to run the hospital if the sale is consummated under the HCA.
Steward says it would pay $40.1 million in cash for the hospital’s assets upon closing of the sale, followed by an investment of $30 million over five years for capital improvements and operations. Steward says the capital improvements could include upgrades to the facility, new technology or expansion of services.
The company would also spend about $4.5 million during the first five years on physician recruitment.
Steward says it has a plan for modernizing clinical and diagnostic equipment, infrastructure, renovating the emergency room, computerization of recordkeeping and promoting primary specialty care, but it’s all subject to change.
“Steward values the input of local management and board members,” the company says.
While DOH is still seeking more information about how Steward would handle charity care, the application for change of control says its plan would comply with state law and be “generally consistent” with existing policies at Landmark.
On the subject of personnel, Steward envisions eliminating slightly fewer than 90 jobs during its first year in operation. Clerical positions, support staff and management jobs would be among the hardest hit, according to papers on file at DOH.
The application contains a motherlode of data about the economic fallout that would befall the city, and the state, if the struggling hospital were liquidated, which many see as the only alternative to a Steward buyout at this point. Steward bid for the hospital at the tail end of a long search for a suitor that began in June 2008, when Landmark filed for receivership in Superior Court, saying it was on the brink of insolvency.
If Landmark collapsed, the loss of some 1,300 jobs would siphon millions of dollars in wages and taxable income out of the economy and pose new burdens on government in the form of unemployment benefits. Moreover, the city would face daunting increases in public safety costs because rescue squads would be forced to make longer trips to out-of-town hospitals.
Based on information supplied by the Woonsocket Fire Department, Steward said the city’s fuel costs for ambulance runs would rise 33 percent, or about $32,000 a year. Sustaining a sound fleet of rescue vehicles would be even more costly because of increased wear and tear. Instead of spending $175,000 for upkeep, maintenance and replacement of vehicles every six or seven years, the city would probably spend that much every two.
Still, the proposed name change is what seems to resonate most with average folks around town – or not.
About the best thing that Charlene Boudreau of North Smithfield could say about the name Blackstone Medical Center was, “I don’t hate it.”
Then again, Boudreau said, she was never wild about the name Landmark Medical Center – which is actually the second name given to Landmark since its founding as the Woonsocket Hospital roughly 130 year ago. The name was changed to Landmark Medical Center in 1988 after Woonsocket Hospital merged with the former John E. Fogarty Memorial Hospital (now the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island) in 1988.
In some ways, Boudreau said, the name Landmark makes less sense that Blackstone Medical Center, which at least infers some connection to the Blackstone Valley region and its namesake river.
“What’s a Landmark, anyway?” she says, shaking her head.