Care New England CEO Dr. James Fanale steps down - The Boston Globe

“Many years ago, it was my passion for caring for others which led me to practice as a geriatrician, which I still do to this very day, aside from serving as CNE’s president and CEO,” said Fanale in a statement Wednesday. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made, because it gave me the opportunity to pursue my true passion of caring for others. I am proud to look back on my career, feeling that I’ve made a difference.”

Unlike Babineau, who will retire at the end of this month, Fanale said he will remain CEO until sometime in early 2023 to help Care New England’s next president and board. The board will kick off a search in the coming weeks, said Jessica McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the company.

While leadership shuffling may bring in administrative changes at each of the systems, it comes at no surprise after the systems failed to successfully combine their two companies in a merger.

In February, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha rejected the proposed merger of Lifespan and Care New England, saying it would hurt consumers by creating a health care giant with a stranglehold on the local market. That same day, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit to block the merger, which Neronha said his office would join. The joint opposition meant the deal was all but dead, and the systems tore up their definitive agreement to merge.

Since September 2020, the two systems have been pushing for the merger, arguing that Rhode Island patients would be better off with a bigger, financially solid health care network that could compete with top-level medical centers in Boston and in New Haven, Conn.

The plan included a partnership with Brown University, which had committed $125 million to the new entity, which would have been dubbed Rhode Island Academic Health Care System Inc. It would have been Rhode Island’s largest employer.

In an exclusive interview with The Boston Globe in March, after the hospitals were blocked from merging, Fanale said he had looked at the consolidation numbers and “knew it was going to be a challenging argument.” The merger would have meant that one system would control about 80 percent of the market’s hospital beds and would own eight of the state’s 13 hospitals.

“It’s been a long and arduous process,” said Fanale at the time. “I’m not sure, personally, where I’m going to be or what I’m going to do in the future. But I want to make sure we have a plan going forward that solidifies the future because the people here [at Care New England] are just terrific.”

There were several companies, including StoneBridge Healthcare, an out-of-state turnaround hospital group, that were interested in acquiring the Care New England. Observers note that that Boston-based Mass General Brigham, formerly Partners HealthCare, could attempt to make a deal with Care New England again.

In April 2017, Mass General Brigham had attempted to acquire Care New England, and even went as far as signing a definitive agreement to merge. Lifespan launched an opposition campaign against the deal saying it would “cost” Rhode Island with rising care prices and shift jobs to Massachusetts. Former governor Gina M. Raimondo, now US Commerce Secretary, asked Fanale, the leaders at Lifespan, and Brown’s Medical school to create a locally run academic medical center in Rhode Island.

Opponents of the Lifespan-Care New England deal, like Minority Leader Blake Filippi, a Block Island Republican, who called the “in state solution” a “prescription for disaster,” said the state should “apologize to” Mass General Brigham and bring them back to the negotiating table.

In March, Fanale said Care New England’s relationship and clinical affiliation with Mass General is “outstanding” and “exceedingly important to us now and in the future.”

“So are we likely to discuss options? Certainly, we will. They’re part of us,” he said. “It’s a great relationship, no matter what, and they’ll be part of of the discussion going forward.”

Fanale told a Globe reporter in March that he planned to remain CEO until Care New England found a suitor that it would merge with.

“Now, after having spent my career doing what I enjoy and feeling that I’ve effectively improved access to state-of-the-art healthcare for all individuals who come to CNE, it’s time to leave the office behind and be with my wonderful wife and children,” said Fanale. “When you’re a physician, and a healthcare system leader, you can see the result of your actions. There is a personal reward that can never be matched. I wish that for everyone, no matter what industry they are in.”

After Fanale retires, he will continue to serve as a consultant. But first, he will help board members and clinical and executive leadership to identify his successor.

“He is a stalwart supporter of CNE and a respected community leader on healthcare quality and accessibility. His successes and accomplishments are extraordinary,” said Charles Reppucci, Care New England’s board chairman. “As a practicing physician and CEO, his healthcare perspectives have been a benefit to Rhode Island, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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