Editorial: Steward managers owe the community its plan for Carney

At mid-morning last Friday, Steward Health Care System Chief Operating Officer Josh Putter arrived in Lower Mills for a meeting with Carney Hospital president Bill Walczak.

Sources say that the two met privately for a brief time in the hospital’s second floor executive suite, and Putter then convened a meeting of doctors, managers, and other employees, telling them that Walczak was no longer the hospital’s president.

In a subsequent memorandum obtained by this newspaper  and addressed to Steward’s “Board of Trustees, Medical Staff,  Employees,” and cc’d to the firm’s chief executive, Dr. Ralph de la Torre, Putter said that Walczak and Steward “have decided to part ways effective immediately.”

After announcing an interim replacement, the hospital chief added, “In the meantime, be assured of our unwavering commitment to making Carney a world class community resource for the citizens of Dorchester.”

Coming just 14 months after Walczak took over as president at Carney, his removal from the post last week is startling. When the long-time Dorchester health care manager was recruited by Dr. de la Torre to Carney, it was with the assurance that our community hospital would not become a casualty as the non-profit system was converted to a for-profit business.

In a 2010 interview with the Reporter, De la Torre said, “I think that Carney has been successful. Sometimes, you just have to have faith in an institution. You have to look at its heart and have faith and say, ‘You know what? I think that it’s going to be successful if you make the investment.’ And that’s what we did with Carney. We looked at it, we looked at the heart of the institution, the people, the value to the community, and said, ‘You know what, if you make this investment, if we make the investment, it’ll be successful,’ and we were right.”

Asked about possible differences about operating as a for-profit hospital system, De la Torre said, “We’ll pay taxes. But short of that, our entire senior team on down stays completely unchanged. Our policies, our procedures, our commitment to free care, our commitment to community benefits stays completely unchanged.”

That was then, just two short years ago when the hospital system was seeking approval to convert to a for-profit enterprise. And this is now: the removal of one of our neighborhood’s strongest and most talented advocates has left us with many questions.

Without making a rush to judgment about the reasons for the sudden change, let it be said it signals a difference of vision for the Carney. The best future role for the Carney is open to interpretation, and it’s an open question about what the hulking facility might become as it undergoes an inevitable change from what we know it has been to what it will become.

The bottom line question now for the Dorchester and Mattapan communities is this: What is in the best interest of our neighborhoods.

Perhaps most ominous is this phrase from COO Putter’s internal memo, promising that Carney would remain a “world class community resource.” It should be noted he did not promise it would remain a “world class” hospital.

It is incumbent upon the Steward managers to make a very plain case of what their plans are now for our community hospital, and explain why their direction is good for the Carney and our neighborhood.

– Ed Forry 

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter