State board approves Encompass Health application for Johnston facility

Johnston Sun Rise ·

On a 3-2 vote, the state Health Services Council approved the certificate of need application for a 50-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility, or IRF, in Johnston at the conclusion of a four-hour meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The board heard hours of testimony across three meetings from those on both sides of the proposal, which would allow Encompass Health to construct a hospital that would nearly double the amount of licensed IRF beds in the state. The application will move on to Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott for approval.

“We had a very good day yesterday,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said via phone Wednesday morning. “I’m glad Encompass is coming to Johnston. I wasn’t surprised. I believe there is a need … I think it is great for the town. I think it puts us on the map in terms of having a premier rehab center in the state coming to Johnston.”

The Faulkner Consulting Group presented its analysis two weeks ago, noting that while the project appears to be fiscally responsible and Encompass is clinically competent, there isn’t a need for more IRF beds in Rhode Island. The addition of a new hospital could lead to significantly fewer patients at the state’s six other IRFs, according to the analysis.

On March 3, Deb Rocha and Encompass presented their rebuttal through a two-hour presentation, even bringing along a doctor from their Braintree location and a woman whose daughter rehabbed there to provide additional testimony.

Those in opposition to the facility had their chance to get a final say during Tuesday’s meeting, as more than a dozen people signed up to urge the council to reject the application.

Rehabilitation Hospital of RI CEO Michael J. Souza once again testified, as he did two weeks ago, to argue that his early discharge rates are “far better” than Encompass. He said that he believed Encompass omitted certain figures from its presentation.

“There are many Medicare measures,” Souza told the council on Tuesday. “They did not show the ones where they did not do as well or where we do better.”

Ken DeLisi, administrator at Morgan Health Center in Johnston, brought up comments Polisena made to the Sun Rise in an article two weeks ago. The mayor said that existing hospitals and IRFs “don’t want competition” and called their concerns “nonsense.”

He said that wasn’t true, and that health centers like his coexist with competition every day.

Polisena doubled down on his comments on Wednesday.

“I think the people that were against it were worried about competition,” the mayor said. “Competition is good, especially for the people that use the services for rehab they may need.”

Members of the HSC and Department of Health received plenty of written testimony ahead of last week’s meeting as well. Jeffrey H. Liebman, CEO of CharterCare Health Partners, expressed his “strong opposition” – a common refrain in several letters against the proposal – on Sept. 10.

He said the services Encompass provides are available at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence, located just five miles from where the facility would be built.

“I would not an exaggeration then to assume such a program, in such close proximity to Fatima, would have a negative impact on the rehabilitation program, its finances and the financial stability of the hospital to continue this and other services,” Liebman said.

More recently, United Nurses & Allied Professionals President Linda McDonald wrote on Feb. 14 that the union is “deeply concerned” that allowing Encompass to enter the market “could result in significant job loss.” McDonald wrote that 120 employees represented by the union work at RHRI, Kent County Memorial Hospital, Fatima and Rhode Island Hospital.

Patrick J. Quinn, executive vice president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, sent a letter on Feb. 28 that asserted Encompass could “create redundancy in services both in the state’s hospital and long term care systems.”

“The addition of yet another for-profit entity would be another wasteful diversion of public long-term care dollars away from the bedside and towards redundant administrative costs,” Quinn wrote.

There was some testimony in favor of the proposal as well. State Sen. Frank Lombardo III (Dist. 25, Johnston) submitted a letter last summer in support of the application, while Rhode Island Building Trades President Michael Sabitoni also gave his vote of confidence on Feb. 24.

He said Encompass has signed a letter of intent committing to an all-union labor agreement with local groups, bringing an estimated 100-plus construction jobs during the building process and as many full-time positions once the facility opens.

“I know that Encompass is the leading provider of inpatient rehabilitation services across the county, and it will provide quality, affordable services to Rhode Islanders, including our state’s aging population in need of comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation,” Sabitoni said. “Rhode Islanders deserve access to such services and should not be forced to go to our neighboring states.”