Carney’s president appeals for support at Lower Mills Civic

Carney Hospital President Stan McLaren spoke in St. Gregory’s gym on Tuesday evening. Bill Forry photo

Stan McLaren, the president of Carney Hospital spoke to about 35 members of the Lower Mills Civic Association in St. Gregory’s auditorium on Tuesday evening. It was McLaren’s second appearance of the year in front of the group, which monitors development issues and checks in routinely on public safety matters.

McLaren’s speech struck many of the same familiar notes that punctuated his March remarks. The survival of the hospital, which has long been in question, depends in part, he said, on the community’s willingness to support and advocate for the Carney. In the present tense, that means asking the Commonwealth’s taxpayers — through their elected lawmakers— to give Carney state funds set aside for distressed hospitals. It’s is a hard ask for legislators and the Healey administration, who are well aware that Carney is owned by a for-profit corporation, Steward Health Care that has shown little evidence that its serious about making Carney a priority in their own business plan.

McLaren is an empathetic figure. He lives in Codman Square and assures anyone who’ll listen that he is personally committed to keeping the community hospital alive “for the long run.” He is candid about the fact that Carney struggles to pay-off delinquent bills owed to vendors. But, he seems sincere and devoted to the cause of keeping the place afloat. He correctly points out that Carney gets a raw deal from insurance reimbursements that pay-out smaller sums to the Dorchester hospital than they do for the same procedures done in downtown teaching facilities.

During Tuesday’s presentation, McLaren dove a bit deeper into a proposal that he has floated before, but that has not advanced, likely because of a lack of funding from the Steward overlords. He wants to get state approval to open a 25-bed Substance Use Disorder (SUD) unit on what is now a vacant, third-floor space at Carney. An application to start the year-long process moving, McLaren said, is imminent.

The idea to open-up a locked detox ward might be deemed controversial in some settings. The Lower Mills crowd was largely unfazed, although some want more details on how any outpatient services might evolve if the state approves the unit. And while McLaren emphasized that he “doesn’t want Mass & Cass in my backyard,” he noted that Carney is already home to a 50-bed, secured psychiatric unit that has operated for many years without fanfare or incident.

McLaren told the civic group that there would be a series of meetings before any final decisions are made on whether to actually open such a unit. Like most dynamics at the Carney, whether or not the detox unit ever actually opens will depend on whether the bean-counters at Steward world headquarters in Texas think it’s profitable enough to advance. In recent years, they have been downright miserly in their approach to the Dorchester hospital, leaving McLaren to dangle as a one-man missionary who spreads his own gospel to a few dozen neighbors in parish gymnasiums.

There’s no larger marketing campaign, no press releases trumpeting the medical staff or the hospital’s quality-of-care audits, which were regularly stellar. There’s no billboards urging the neighborhood to use its services, as there are for Carney’s big sister, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, also a Steward asset.

If Steward wants Dorchester residents to take up their cause, it’s time for them to step up their game, and make their long-term commitment to this hospital and this community clear.

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