Dr. de la Torre, we were wrong about you

It was just 16 years ago when a brash young Cuban American surgeon came into our neighborhood with a promise to save our neighborhood hospital.

Carney Hospital, along with seven other hospitals owned by the Boston Archdiocese under the banner Caritas Christi (“Charity of Christ”), had been struggling financially for many years, and Dr. Ralph de la Torre, at left in 2011, was recruited to take them over and plot a new, brighter course.

He hired a healthcare consultant from Wellspring Partners to help him find options for that future, and at a public meeting in May 2008 they outlined four options for the Carney: revitalization, conversion to a psychiatric hospital, change of ownership, and closure.

The Dorchester Reporter began its coverage of that meeting this way: “Caritas Christi Health Care CEO Ralph de la Torre surprised a Coalition to Strengthen the Carney meeting last week when he strode in and told the audience that Carney would not close or change its service mix in any major way. Instead, he said, it will embark on a major fundraising, recruitment, and reinvestment effort to reestablish its image as a competitive healthcare provider.

“We have decided that Carney will stay as an acute care facility,” said de la Torre to loud applause at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall on Adams Street. “That decision really comes from the work the people in this room have done. This community has made this possible.”

The doctor took control of the hospital and began making some investments, then 30 months later, he came up with a new scheme: Convert the non-profit hospital organization to a for-profit business. And we bought into his strategy. Our February 2011 editorial was titled “Bright new day dawns at Carney” and the text enthusiastically supported de la Torre:

“The future seems to be bright both for the Carney and the new owner. In a Boston Globe Magazine cover story last Sunday, de la Torre was described as ‘a major player in Boston’s medical community…. He stunned the medical world by getting a private equity giant to buy a group of debt-drowning community hospitals, but that’s just step one of (his) plan to build a model for the nation.’
“Key to the Carney’s future is de la Torre’s vision that his model, called an Accountable Care Organization (ACO,) is the future of American healthcare, wherein most people will receive their care in relatively lower cost community health settings from Integrated networks of physicians and community hospitals that share resources and reduce costs.

“In an interview with the Reporter last year (2010), 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.”

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We were wrong about you, Ralph. The course you pursued has impoverished healthcare options in our neighborhood. Long live Carney Hospital, the venerable, healthcare-giving, life-saving facility that sits right here in the middle of our neighborhood.

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