Inaction was not an option [Journal Inquirer Letter]

May 23, 2014

By Senator Len Fasano | Journal Inquirer
The Journal Inquirer’s editorial accusing the legislature of failing to confront the hospital conversion issue and suggesting that I kowtowed to corporate interests was both false and offensive.

It is important to note that this bill strengthens existing law. Prior to the legislature’s action, nothing in Connecticut law prohibited a for-profit entity, such as Tenet, from purchasing and operating a hospital. The only impediment to Tenet’s plan was an unusual state law that allowed only nonprofit hospitals to employ physicians. Yale, a nonprofit, and Tenet believed they could circumvent this law by joining together. Tenet would purchase the hospitals, and the Yale/Tenet partnership would employ the physicians. Although the attorney general warned that this partnership might still violate the law, Yale and Tenet intended to move forward.

At the same time, hospitals such as Waterbury Hospital were warning that, without a buyout, closure was imminent. The closure of a major community hospital would have a devastating impact on employees, patients, and the many small businesses that rely on the hospital’s economic activity.

While some legislators were content to sit on the sidelines for fear of angering certain interest groups, in my opinion, doing nothing was not an option. At best it would result in hospital takeovers by for-profits with no oversight and no statutory mechanism for future legislative control. At worst, it would result in years of taxpayer financed litigation while hospitals closed causing hundreds to lose their jobs, and thousands their doctors and access to care.

Therefore, I worked with all parties, including local hospitals, Yale, Tenet, and labor organizations, to craft what I believe is a balanced first step. The bill we passed, while clarifying that any licensed hospital can employ physicians, requires greater financial disclosure, increased community input, and consideration of staffing levels and access to care. It also authorizes the state to impose conditions on for-profit hospitals to protect community interests.

As I stated on the Senate floor, this is not the last word. We will be watching Tenet, Yale, and anyone else who seeks to operate hospitals in Connecticut. I can promise your readers that I will not shy from any fight. I will be the first to propose further action if the interests of patients, employees, doctors, or others are being ignored.