Delivery of Care

Brown and Lifespan: ‘We belong together.’

Where exactly do patients fit into the transaction?

Photo by Richard Asinof [file photo]

Lifespan and Brown University have inked a new partnership that will provide the largest health care system and private employer with a new brand: “Brown Health.” The move involves a flow of money from Brown to the delivery of care system formerly known as Lifespan, and then, after seven years, the flow of money will be reversed, with Brown Health investing in the Brown medical school.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/24/24
Lifespan and Brown are apparently afraid of being asked questions by ConvergenceRI, questions that might poke the bear, not inviting ConvergenceRI to attend a big media splash two days after ConvergenceRI received an award for his journalistic excellence.
What sources of capital does Lifespan intend on using to purchase bankrupt hospitals in Massachusetts that are being sold off by Steward Health Care? What role will patients have under the new partnership between Lifespan and Brown? What liability will Lifespan and Brown incur if there is a federal lawsuit brought against Bradley Hospital, a division of Lifespan, for allegedly warehousing patients with behavioral health and mental health conditions? How will the new configuration of Brown Medical School and Lifespan improve the pipeline for more, better primary care physicians in Rhode Island? What kind of scrutiny will Brown students provide of investments by Brown in terms of Lifespan’s portfolio of investments?
Dr. Howard Schulman, one of the speakers at the May 28 health care summit, sent ConvergenceRI a pointed letter questioning why his presentation did not received more coverage in the subsequent story, “Bang the gavel slowly.” [See link below.] Dr. Schulman said he was unfamiliar with ConvergenceRI; he told ConvergenceRI he had Googled the story. Further, he twice declined an offer to meet in person to talk further with ConvergenceRI, saying: “Appreciate the offer to talk but I was just looking for information. You know, it is very hazardous for a full-time practicing physician to say stuff in public.”
ConvergenceRI went back and watched the video of Dr. Schulman’s presentation, during which he seemed to evade answering questions put to him by Cortney Nicolato, president and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island, about social and health inequities, questions from Debra Hurwitz, executive director of the Care Transformation Collaborative, about the lack of a pipeline for primary care physicians coming through the Warren Alpert Medical School, questions from Neil Steinberg, chair of the RI Life Science Hub, about the growing number of elderly patients in Rhode Island, as well as questions about Dr. Schulman’s apparent denigration of physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners in comparison to the training regiment of primary care physicians, and questions from a legislator about the lack of data supporting the efficiency of accountable care organizations.

PROVIDENCE – Lifespan and Brown University threw a big media splash party at Hasbro Children’s Hospital early Thursday morning, June 20, to announce the rebranding of the state’s largest private employer.

Lifespan, with some 16,000 employees, will soon become known as Brown University Health, andin the vernacular, Brown Health.

In addition to the creation of a new health brand and a new logo, the deal translates into a major financial transaction, with a river of millions of dollars flowing back and forth between the two institutions:

  •    Brown University’s Investment Office, which currently manages the university’s $6.6 billion endowment, would now be in charge of managing Lifespan’s portfolio of investments, worth between $600 million to $800 million, according to news reports.
  •    In addition, Brown University has pledged to invest some $150 million over the next seven years, in $15 million to $25 million increments, in Lifespan. After that, the agreement calls for the flow of money to reverse, with Lifespan promising to provide Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School approximately $15 million a year, according to news reports.

That initial amount of some $150 million is roughly the same amount as the $125 million that Brown had pledged to invest in the proposed merger between Lifespan and Care New England, the merger that state regulators put the kibosh on in 2022, despite enormous pressure brought to bear in favor of the merger – including by Neil Steinberg, then president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, Dr. G. Alan Kurose, then executive vice president of Lifespan, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and Brown University President Christina Paxson.

No doubt, a lot of planning seems to have gone into the re-branding public relations splash, including getting the stamp of approval from the R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha that the new “partnership” agreement between Brown and Lifespan was not a merger, as well as creating a public relations video.

(Editor's Note: Lifespan includes Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children's Hospital, The Miriam Hospital, Newport Hospital, Bradley Hospital, Gateway Healthcare, Coastal Medical, and Lifespan Physician Group.)

In the days preceding the walk up to the announcement of the new branding of Brown Health, Lifespan also announced that it was planning to bid on at least two of the hospitals owned by the bankrupt Steward Health Care health system – St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, Mass., and the Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Mass., according to reports by the Boston Globe.

One question that didn’t manage to get asked at the news conference on Thursday, June 20, was whether any of the new-found capital from Brown’s investment, now that Lifespan was now apparently flush with capital, would be spent on the hospital acquisition – which would definitely require money to be invested into the financially troubled hospitals owned by Steward Health Plan.

While the decision on the bankruptcy sale was supposed to be made by the end of June, a new bid deadline has now been set for July 15, with the auction set for July 18, according to a filing in U.S. bankruptcy court in Houston, with a July 31 court hearing proposed by Steward to finalize the hospital sales, according to reporting in the Boston Globe.

It was exactly the kind of “impertinent question”that ConvergenceRI would have asked, if he had been invited to the news conference. However, ConvergenceRI did not receive an invitation to attend the news conference. Why not?  Was Lifespan – or Brown – afraid that ConvergenceRI might poke the bear?

Perhaps more insulting, an invitation that ConvergenceRI had given to Dr. John Fernandez, the President and CEO of Lifespan, requesting a time for a in-person interview with Dr. Fernandez, was still pending and had not yet received a response.

On June 10, ConvergenceRI wrote to Dr. Fernandez: “It was a pleasure to finally meet you in person at the health care summit on May 28. As I explained, I am the founder, editor and publisher of ConvergenceRI, a weekly digital news platform I launched 11 years ago in September of 2013. 

“ConvergenceRI covers the convergence of health, science, innovation, technology, research and community, breaking down the silos that seem to afflict most news coverage. I am delighted to have an opportunity to sit down and talk with you in person, hopefully, in the next few weeks. Please let me know what would be a good time for you to meet, given your busy schedule. Thanks! I look forward to our conversation.” 

Two weeks later, on the morning of June 20, when news of the new partnership between Brown and Lifespan broke, ConvergenceRI responded with anger:

“Good morning, John: I have not received a response to my request for an interview, following up on our conversation at the May 28 health summit. “Apparently there was a news conference to announce Brown’s branding with Lifespan, to which I was not invited. Really? 

“I find Lifespan’s attitude perplexing and insulting, to be honest. Why are you afraid to talk with me?”

To which Dr. Fernandez responded later that morning: “Richard.  Sorry for delayed response. I do not wished to do an interview at this time. Be well. John”

So it goes. Perhaps ConvergenceRI may have been too quick to respond with anger for not being invited to the news conference. The fault may have been the result of years of bad patterns of corporate behavior being followed by the communications honchos at Brown, Brian Clark, and Kathleen Hart at Lifespan.

While Brown and Lifespan may not value the reporting of ConvergenceRI, R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha does. When I received the “Advocacy in Action” award from the Community Care Alliance earlier last week, on June 18, Attorney General Neronha posted on X: “Today, AG Neronha attended @CCA's Annual Meeting to see @RichardAsinof accept the “Advocacy in Action Award” for his commitment to advocacy and honesty in journalism. Here’s to you, Richard!”

Neronha added: “Well deserved – no better coverage of health care an related issues than by @RichardAsinof – and what a distinguished career. Congratulations and grateful that I could attend.

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