Whitcomb: Finally,  R.I. Hospital Group Merger? Suing Colleges; Run as a Team

Sunday, June 07, 2020


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Robert Whitcomb, columnist

“The wind could have brought us down

     into the whites of their eyes, the harbor’s

froth, onto the backs of swans and the swan



-- From “Rough Flight Into Boston,’’ by Brad Leithauser, a poet, novelist and teacher who was trained as a lawyer



“There are few minds to which tyranny is not delightful.’’

-- “Dr.’’ Samuel Johnson (1709-84)  English, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer



“It is hard when nature does not respect your intentions, and she never does exactly respect them.’’

-- Wendell Berry (born 1934), Kentucky-based essayist, poet and environmental activist





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Potential merger between Lifespan and CNE is underway

Good out of bad? Lifespan and Care New England, Rhode Island’s two big “nonprofit’’ hospital systems, have had to tightly coordinate their responses to the COVID-19 crisis – an experience that has led them to revive merger or at least “collaboration’’ plans. A merger might save on administrative and other costs borne by the public and enable the state to have a system big and strong enough to compete with the Boston health-care behemoth by maintaining a full range of medical services and research in the Ocean State and by strengthening its only schools of medicine and public health, at Brown University. A merger might preserve a lot of jobs in Rhode Island. But at the same time, many jobs would presumably be lost as the merged company eliminated redundancies.


Of course, such a large and powerful merged entity would have to be carefully regulated. As Michael Fine, M.D., warned last week in GoLocal, such mergers have tended to raise health-care consumers’ costs because of the monopoly pricing-power created. And I wonder what gigantic golden parachutes, paid for indirectly by the public, would go to Lifespan and Care New England senior executives in a merger.


To read Dr. Fine’s comments, please hit this link:




In other health news, the Rhode Island Department of Health will send representatives to protest rallies to hand out face masks to those who aren’t wearing them. Good idea.




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University of Connecticut

They Want Their Money Back

Some students are suing, in class-action lawsuits, several New England colleges for refunds after these institutions shifted to remote (e.g., via Zoom and Skype) teaching as they stopped on-campus courses because of COVID-19.


I can’t say that I blame them, considering the astronomical cost of college these days. Screens are nowhere as good a learning setting as in-person – learning from professors and fellow students. Among the institutions being sued are Brown University, Boston University, and the University of Connecticut. Apparently small private colleges that may well soon go out of business are being left alone for now. Why drive the last nails into their coffins and then try to collect damages? Some of them were already on very thin ice because of declining demographics. You can guess their names in this region.

As colleges and universities agonize over whether to reopen their campuses for in-person instruction in the fall, they’ll bear in mind their legal exposure.


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Gov. Gina Raimondo and Lt. Gov.Dan McKee

Run as a Team

The function of Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor is too simple – to take over as governor or acting governor if the governor dies or is incapacitated. No other duties are specified, although most of the state’s lieutenant governors have taken on projects. The current one, Dan McKee, for example, has commendably become an advocate for small business, which is obviously under great stress now. Mr. McKee was himself a small businessman.


Rhode Island still provides that the governor and lieutenant governor run separately in general elections. Common sense suggests that they run on the same ticket. After all, people electing a gubernatorial candidate would presumably want his/her successor to hold to the same general policies. And if the governor doesn’t die or become incapacitated, the lieutenant governor should help the governor carry out his/her policies, acting in effect as deputy governor.


If the voters don’t want to vote to change the state constitution to let them run together,  then perhaps they could vote to eliminate the position of lieutenant governor and put someone with a “real job’’ with real functions in the line of succession, presumably the secretary of state, and save some money.


In any event, I wish Governor Raimondo and Mr. McKee could and/or would work more closely together, especially in times of crisis like now.



Start-of-Summer Signs

Those signs that proud parents have put in front of their homes to celebrate their kids’ “virtual” graduations have a certain plaintive air about them. I wonder if some local sign companies have made a lot of money selling them, like mask makers.






I overheard on a dog walk last week a lady talking into a cell phone (funny how public these outdoor conversations have become):


 “He should be more careful; he’s not 35 anymore,’’ presumably in reference to COVID-19.





A lot of us with hay fever and asthma (including me) tend to sneeze and wheeze a lot these days, which sends others scurrying away in pandemic paranoia.  But then, sometimes the symptoms can overlap.





While strolling the other night I heard vibrant birdsong that transported me back to a Hudson Valley evening at the same time of year in 1970.




I’m curious how people are reacting to being shut in so much in the pandemic, especially about how they sense time. Has it seemed to pass more slowly or faster without the pre-pandemic daily and weekly signposts? When the controls lift, will our sense of time have been permanently altered?




One day it’s still spring, then the next day it’s summer, humid and hazy and with the smell of cool wet earth gone.



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Tuesday morning's riot

Protesters and Criminals

I’ve noticed in the recent looting, arson and vandalism and other violent provocations in American cities how many Trumpian-looking tattooed young white guys, as well as African-Americans, have been in on the act: The sort of screaming fans wrapped in American flags you see at MAGA rallies. I’ve vivid memories of the racially connected riots of the ‘60s and very early ‘70s, indeed I covered a couple of them in Boston, and the mix above was certainly not the case then.


(It sometimes seems that the more people wrap themselves in flag regalia, the less likely they are to have read the U.S. Constitution.)


Not only that, many of these young (mostly) men have come into cities from out of town to wreak damage on urban neighborhoods that all too often have had to wait far too long for the police to arrive. Downtown Providence has long had the reputation as a place whose nightclubs create an atmosphere that draws troublemakers.  So, it wasn’t surprising that bad actors would flock to it in times of disorder like the past couple of weeks.


It’s clear that people connected with the Trump campaign, including foreign forces, especially Trump’s helpers in Russia, are doing everything they can to stir the pot. The Russians hope that many Americans, aghast at the mess in the streets, will vote to keep our lawless “law and order president’’ in power. (Meanwhile, Trump says he wants to get Putin’s Russia back into the G7 group of nations -- what used to be called the G-8 until the G7  kicked out Russia after it seized Crimea from Ukraine and attacked the eastern part of that country, an aggression that continues. Quid pro quo for help in the past and next election?)


The G-7 represents the seven biggest industrialized democracies.


But other regimes, including China’s, are trying to maximize American disorder and division, too, just to weaken us.


Social media, of course, is the cesspool wherein dwell some of these agitating groups. Consider the fake “Antifa” account created by people in Trump’s base that Twitter has taken down. “Antifa” (as in “antifascist”) is not an organization; it’s a disorganized hodge-podge of leftist people worried, with some justification, that America is sliding into an authoritarian plutocracy. (I’ve spent my adult life as something between an Eisenhower/Charlie Baker Republican and a Truman Democrat and I’m worried.)


Please hit this link:



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Manni sworn in as Superintendent of RISP

The Rhode Island State Police, meanwhile, are trying to find the source of a Facebook flyer that encouraged looting in Providence last week.


Col. James Manni of the Rhode Island State Police told The Public’s Radio that his people are trying to “find out where it originated from and what the intent was - whether it was a Rhode Islander, whether it was someone from outside Rhode Island or whether it was a foreign government.’’

Facebook is the biggest part of the Internet cesspool. People ask why FB’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t do anything to at least fact-check the obviously suspicious incendiary assertions that flourish on his goldmine of a site. The reason is simple, the more back and forth rage that Facebook can encourage the more clicks and the more ad revenue. Pure greed.


Why would people of various “races” (a too vague term I avoid) destroy locally based businesses serving communities and employing locals? One reason is just nihilism, which prospers in places, like America, with lots of anomie. Some people get a kind of erotic thrill from destroying and stealing things. And protests and chaos in reaction to the police murder of George Floyd give these thugs considerable cover.


All attacks on businesses are reprehensible but those on small, local firms are the worst.  While such gigantic companies as Apple, Microsoft and, especially Amazon, have actually thrived during the pandemic, which has made us more dependent on them, state lockdowns, however necessary for public health, have devastated small firms. Many were already in or close to bankruptcy – and now the riots….(The Dow Jones Industrial Average has stayed so high in part because huge tech companies have benefited from the pandemic. Another reason is the Federal Reserve Board’s obsession with keeping Wall Street happy.)


The lockdowns and resulting unemployment from COVID-19 had already cooked up a lot of anger and frustration, which has helped worsen the recent violence. Consider that millions haven’t worked for months and have been cooped up at home, and many have far too much time on their hands – time to cause trouble. And then there’s a generalized sense among many poorer people that in a country with ever-widening income inequality, and slowing economic mobility, that they don’t have a chance to succeed; they’ve picked the wrong parents. So, a few lash out.


Anyway, to make things better, first off clearly ban, with criminal penalties for violation, the use of such lethal (and sadistic) restraints on people taken into custody as the knee on neck that was used to torture and kill George Floyd. Recognize that while many bigger cities now have many African-American and other minority police officers, including chiefs, the most important thing is to fix the systems and practices with which police officers work.


And don’t treat those who loot, vandalize, and set ablaze property as “protesters.’’ Treat them for what they are: criminals deserving of jail time. The credibility of law enforcement and government, in general, depend on it.


At the same time, the police must communicate, communicate, communicate with their communities – daily.  Yes, many police departments have long done this. And leaders of those communities ought to do more to create more and stronger neighborhood-watch groups to better monitor crime – both the usual daily stuff and what arises in times of social disorder -- and work with the police to block attacks on people and property.


Meanwhile, we must accept that in rare cases police must shoot to protect themselves and to prevent mayhem from overtaking cities. Because of a grotesque misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and marketing by the gun industry (the two are related), America is drowning in weapons. Police have to defend themselves.


Finally, we should be careful not to exaggerate the role of racial bigotry in police cases, each one of which reflects unique circumstances. Sometimes what may appear to some as a case of lethal racism is nothing of the kind. And remember that police officers must often make very fast decisions in very confusing and stressful situations.



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PHOTO: Olga Enger


George Floyd’s fatal encounter with the Minneapolis police apparently came following a store calling the cops because they suspected he was using a counterfeit $20 bill. Whether it actually was counterfeit, and whether he knew it was, had not been confirmed as of this writing. Meanwhile, business crooks who defraud people out of millions aren’t punished.



An Essential Guide

Since disaster is in the air, I recommend you pick up a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht. It’s chock full of useful information, such as “How to Survive if You Are in the Line of Gunfire,’’ “How to Perform a Tracheotomy’’ and my favorite, “How to Ram a Car’’.  But perhaps the most useful section of this illustrated work is “How to Tell if Someone Is Lying to You’’.


Keep this book with you at all times!

Robert Whitcomb's weekly examination of everything that is important. Only Whitcomb offers such a collection of insights on the global and local issues that matter.


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