Outgoing CEO on Care New England's 'major regret' with merger attempts

In October, Providence, R.I.-based Care New England announced that Michael Wagner, MD, was selected as the next president and CEO of the organization. Dr. Wagner officially took the helm Dec. 1, succeeding James Fanale, MD, who retired after leading the system as president and CEO since 2018.

As Dr. Fanale left the top leadership role, he spoke with The Boston Globe about his tenure at Care New England. He specifically discussed merger attempts as well as the future of healthcare in Rhode Island.

Boston-based Partners HealthCare — now Mass General Brigham — announced in June 2019 that it would withdraw its application to acquire Care New England. Partners backed out more than a year after signing a definitive agreement and after Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island's governor at the time, asked Care New England to make efforts toward an agreement with Lifespan and Brown University, both in Providence. Lifespan had also launched a public campaign opposing Partners HealthCare's proposed acquisition of Care New England.

Dr. Fanale characterized the outcome as a "major regret."

"I think a major regret for Care New England is, 'Why couldn't we get the Partners deal done?' It was a political situation that ended it," he told The Boston Globe. "But our people are incredibly resilient. They didn't sit and cry in their soup for a long time about this."

Care New England later began merger talks with Lifespan. The proposed deal faced scrutiny from state regulators. Brown University committed at least $125 million to make the merger happen, The Boston Globe reported. But ultimately, the boards of Lifespan and Care New England decided to withdraw their merger application in February after the Federal Trade Commission announced it would sue to block the deal.

Dr. Fanale told The Boston Globe, "I knew early on that it was really unlikely this thing was going to get approved. Just do the math. You put so much effort, so many dollars behind it that when you get closer, you want to see it all the way through. Once you're in the middle of it, you don't even think of not completing it."

Most recently, Lifespan and Care New England, along with Brown University, signed a new aligned research collaboration in November. Dr. Fanale told The Boston Globe the boards recently agreed to collaborate on cardiology services and open a medical surgical unit at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence.

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