Delivery of Care

Muddying the waters around Memorial

Why has an apparent “fake” news network linked to a Republican opposition research group bought placements on Twitter and digital ads on the Providence Journal platform, talking about the closing of Memorial Hospital?

Image courtesy of Providence Journal digital platform, captured in a screen shot

A digital ad placement by NTK Network on the The Providence Journal platform on Saturday, Nov. 4. NTK Network has also purchased Twitter placements in the Rhode Island market.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/6/17
The emergence of a paid digital advertising campaign run by a “fake” news network with a relationship to a Republican opposition research group has apparently attempted to muddy the waters regarding the pending closure of Memorial Hospital, for political purposes.
What kind of content review, if any, does GateHouse Media employ before accepting and placing digital advertising on its platform at The Providence Journal? Should the newspaper require a disclaimer that the ad, which is designed to look as if it is a news story, is a paid advertisement and not news content? Who is the client that paid for the aggressive Twitter placement and digital ads around the closing of Memorial Hospital? Is the advertising campaign being coordinated with a Republican candidate for statewide elected office in Rhode Island? How much did it cost? Will members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation investigate?
Will the R.I. General Assembly examine legal remedies to enable homeowners and businesses with renewable energy sources not to be disabled from the grid during blackouts and storm outages? What kinds of hubs of distributed generation can be created in Rhode Island as an alternative to building large new power plants? What other communities could follow Newport’s lead and develop microgrids? Will CommerceRI consider the potential to create an innovation campus in Newport to take advantage of the existing plans for a new green infrastructure? What are the opportunities to create incentives in new housing construction for renewable energy and storage systems?
As the politicization of health care continues unabated at the national level as a wedge issue, regardless of what the facts tell us, the Trump administration appointees at the Environmental Protection are moving aggressively to roll back regulations on toxic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides that have a documented negative impact on public health.
Scott Pruitt, the director of the EPA, recently moved to keep any scientist who had received EPA funding from participating in the agency’s scientific advisory panels, in an effort that critics say will tilt the scales in favor of scientists paid for by industry and corporate interests. The EPA also prevented scientists from speaking about a report they helped to write about Narragansett Bay and the impacts of climate change.
Equally absurd, former Gov. Rick Perry, the head of the U.S. Department of Energy, said that investment in fossil fuels would help prevent sexual assault. Really?
Some environmentalists are actively discussing how best to counter Pruitt and his henchmen in a series of public awareness campaigns. Stay tuned.

PROVIDENCE – The convoluted web of news being spun around hospitals in Rhode Island got a bit stickier last week.

NTK Network, an apparent “fake” news network linked to a Republican opposition research group in Arlington, Va., began buying digital ads in The Providence Journal and placements on Twitter in Rhode Island.

NTK Network was identified by Politico in an Oct. 10, 2016, story as being run by “operatives connected to Republican opposition research firm American Rising.”

Joe Pounder, co-founder and CEO of America Rising, launched NTK Network, according to the Politico story. The two organizations shared a workspace, according to the Politico story.

On its website, America Rising Corporation described itself as: “An opposition research and communications firm whose mission is to help its clients defeat Democrats. We do this by providing top-notch opposition research, video tracking, rapid response consulting, and earned media communications through on-demand and subscription-based plans and platforms. Our blueprint to winning elections involves the relentless pursuit of original and effective hits against Democrats.”

The America Rising website continued: “Founded in 2013, America Rising has worked with more than 100 different Republican and conservative organizations over two election cycles to defeat Hillary Clinton and win races up and down the ballot nationwide.”

On its website, America Rising proudly took credit for helping to defeat numerous Democratic candidates in 2016 and 2017, including: Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Rob Quist in Montana running for Congressional seats in 2017; and Patrick Murphy in Florida, Deborah Ross in North Carolina, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Ted Strickland in Ohio, running for Senate seats in 2016.

On Facebook, NTK Network described itself as “a news aggregator website focused on featuring and connecting all the different stories that are driving the daily news cycle,” with no mention of its relationship to America Rising.

Who’s paying for NTK digital placements?
Exactly whom the likely Republican political client was that NTK Network is apparently working with has not yet been identified. The same open-ended question exists for which Democratic candidate is being targeted?

The story being peddled as legitimate “news” took snippets from Rhode Island news sources, including The Providence Journal, WPRI, and even a photo from The Providence Business News, and constructed them into an apparent manipulative fashion.

The lede in the “slanted” news story being promoted by NTK Network sought to use quotes from Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien to pin the blame on Partners Healthcare for the demise of a pending deal between Care New England to sell Memorial to Prime Healthcare.

“Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien has expressed suspicion about whether Care New England’s decision to close Memorial Hospital was driven by pressure from Partners HealthCare, the larger entity attempting to acquire Care New England,” according to the NTK Network story.

Of course, when outsiders try to make sense out of Rhode Island politics, they often swing for the fences and miss.

Both Lifespan and Care New England, the two largest hospital systems in Rhode Island, told ConvergenceRI that they had no knowledge of the advertising campaign by NTK Network or its motive.

The real news
Still, there was plenty of real news occurring in Rhode Island around the future health of hospitals.

First, on Oct. 30, as a kind of early Halloween trick or treat, Prime Healthcare, the for-profit owner of Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island in North Smithfield, agreed to pay a $1 million fine in a consent decree with the R.I. Department of Health for illegally transferring the assets to its nonprofit foundation in December of 2016 without first getting state approval. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below, “Prime Healthcare fined $1 million for hiding its transfer of Landmark to its nonprofit foundation without state approval.”]

Then, on Nov. 2, Care New England filed its application to close down Memorial Hospital with the R.I. Department of Health, as required by the state Hospital Conversions Act.

The decision to close down Memorial was precipitated by the breakdown of talks between Prime to buy Memorial Hospital from Care New England, for still unexplained and unshared reasons. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below, “As Memorial Hospital dies, officials appear to be in denial.”]

In the news release, Care New England said that the filing advises the agency that Memorial Hospital plans “to cease operations as a licensed inpatient hospital,” requesting approval for the elimination of the hospital’s Emergency Department and certain other services. No date was given for the planned cessation.

In its application, Care New England said that it intended to provide certain community-based primary care and specialty care services in Pawtucket but did not provide details.

There are two residency programs with the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University that are currently located at Memorial Hospital, including the Family Medicine program and the Internal Medicine program. Funded through the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, they provide more than $7 million in annual revenue to the hospital, according to sources. Combined, the two three-year programs place about 25 residents a year at Memorial.

Care New England did meet last week with Blackstone Valley Community Health Center to begin preliminary discussions about the potential ways that the community health center might become involved in the transfer of some primary care patients from Memorial.

What happens next?
What actually caused the breakdown in negotiations between Prime and Care New England has not been discussed by either health system, in part because of confidentiality agreements.

A number of sources – none from either Prime or Care New England – have speculated to ConvergenceRI about what some of the barriers were to “getting to yes” on a deal. Beyond which health system would control the Brown medical school residency programs moving forward, the sources told ConvergenceRI there were alleged disagreements about the length of the management contract after Memorial was sold: Prime apparently wanted a six-month contract; Care New England a contract for a year, according to sources.

Another alleged bone of contention in the negotiations, the sources indicated, was the length of time Prime had to back out and renege on the deal.

At some point, the discussion will pivot to what happens next in regard to the future of Memorial and its dedicated caregivers. Dr. Michael Fine at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care has floated the idea of creating four Neighborhood Health Stations to serve Pawtucket, similar to the one now operating in Central Falls.

Brown University President Christina Paxson told ConvergenceRI in a recent interview: “Obviously, we can’t be a first-rate medical school without a family medicine program. It is one of the crown jewels of the Brown medical school. We are engaged in discussions about where we can move that program. We will find a new home for that program. It’s critically important.” [See link to ConvergenceRI story below, “One on one with Brown President Christina Paxson.”


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