Connecticut senators may resume talks with Tenet to purchase nonprofit hospitals [NHRegister]

December 26, 2014

New Haven Register

HARTFORD >> The state Senate leadership is ready to give negotiations with the Tenet Healthcare Corporation over the purchase of nonprofit hospitals another try.

Democratic state Senate President-elect Martin Looney and Republican Senate Minority-elect Len Fasano Tuesday said there is interest on the part of Waterbury officials, as well as union representatives to revisit the issue after for-profit Tenet pulled out of over objections to a proposed regulatory framework on the purchase of Waterbury Hospital.

Looney and Fasano, who assume their new duties with the beginning of the legislative session, discussed revisiting the loss of Tenet as a potential owner of five hospitals in the state a day after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, from his standpoint, talking with Tenet was at a dead end.

Tenet, reacting to a story in the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury Monday on Malloy’s statement, did nothing to contradict the governor’s assessment.

“While we have not been in direct contact with the governor or his staff since withdrawing the application, we were closely engaged with his office for more than two years, working toward the shared goal of bringing sustainability and critically needed investment to these community hospitals. Despite what we believed were many positive interactions with executive and legislative officials, state regulators proposed a long list of untenable conditions that would prevent any health system from successfully operating any hospital. Unfortunately, OHCA’s (the Office of Healthcare Access) proposed ruling was not a starting point for discussion, but the likely end of a long, costly and disappointing process,” Trip Pilgrim, senior vice president of Tenet Healthcare said in a statement.

That is not discouraging Looney and Fasano.

The soon to be minority leader said he hoped that Looney and himself, in a bipartisan effort, can get Tenet back to the table. Looney said they would likely put out feelers after the holidays.

Fasano, a Republican lawmaker from North Haven, said he understands that “perhaps the governor can’t put the olive branch out there, but I think Sen. Looney and I can. Marty and I have talked about it and we have agreed to make that challenge.”

Fasano said he didn’t understand Tenet’s objections to rules already imposed on Sharon Hospital, the only for-profit hospital to date in Connecticut.

“I’m kind of miffed by that,” he said. “Maybe it is the language within those conditions that are different than Sharon Hospital. I need to look at that.”

“The unions were very happy with the conditions, but I think they are willing to talk,” Fasano said. “I think Tenet was upset, but they are willing to talk … conversations never hurt anybody. You have to put in some time. I’m willing to put in the time.”

Fasano said the state is under the misconception that “everybody needs them. So I’m kind of happy Tenet said ‘you think you are the big dog. You are not the big dog. I’ll go someplace else.’”

Looney said he was surprised Tenet pulled out when it did, which technically was before the draft regulations handed down by OCHA and the office of the attorney general, were final.

Looney said practitioners in the Waterbury area, as well as union officials and the Center for a New Economy would also be asked to come to the table.

Looney doesn’t take issue with the regulations proposed for Tenet, calling them “a very reasonable and responsible approach.” He doesn’t feel they went too far.

“We were concerned about the quality of care, continuity of treatment for patients,” Looney said.
The new Senate president said he feels Tenet’s objections show that if they had a freer hand without conditions, “they really were intending to make a number of very drastic service cuts.”

Looney and Fasano see the need to try to get ahead of all the changes happening with hospital consolidations. After the deal with Tenet fell apart, St. Francis Care, the parent of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, announced it was merging with Trinity Health in Michigan. It would remain a nonprofit entity, unlike Waterbury.

“The overall challenge that we are facing is that practices and alliances and moves, whether it be by for-profits or nonprofits or some combination are happening so quickly that they are running ahead of the legislature’s capacity to have a rationale policy of regulation,” Looney said.

Looney and Fasano set up the Bipartisan Roundtable on Hospitals and Healthcare, which has been taking testimony for the past two months on hospital mergers, the purchase of physician practices by hospitals, the imposition of facility fees on consumers and the lack of transparency on billing, all of which are likely to be addressed in additional legislation this year.

Some stipulations that had been part of proposed legislation on hospital mergers last spring, such as an independent monitor for five years and a three year cap on cutting clinical staff, were dropped from the final bill. But the monitor and a five-year ban on reducing clinical staff came back in the draft OCHA regulations governing the sale of Waterbury Hospital to Tenet.

There remains suspicion among all the parties as to their intentions.

“The whole thing is very volatile,” Looney said.