On high alert at Carney Hospital

It’s a real challenge to keep track of all the moving pieces involving the slow-motion train wreck otherwise known as Steward Health Care that now looms as an existential threat to Dorchester’s Carney Hospital. As we enter what is normally a quiet summer on the business front, events in this case are likely to unfold in quick succession. Our eyes need to stay trained on what could be profound disruptions to our city’s health care network, the economy, and, of course, the men and women who have devoted their careers to caring for people at the hospital.
Here’s a quick re-cap of where things stand:

• Carney is open this week but it is now under daily supervision from state-deployed “monitors.” One former employee who left recently told The Reporter this week that the hospital is experiencing an exodus of doctors as patient loads slow to a trickle amid the crisis and resulting lack of confidence in Steward. Still, state watchdogs have repeatedly assured the public that seeking medical care at Carney and other Steward-owned hospitals in Massachusetts remains “safe.”

• Carney’s owner has filed for bankruptcy in Texas, where Steward has been based since exiting Massachusetts a decade ago. A judge has set a deadline of next week – June 24 – for Steward to accept bids to sell or auction off its hospitals, including Carney. A sales hearing is set for July 11.

• While this “auction” phase could lead to a new operator for Carney, it might also end with the hospital closing, at least for a period of time, perhaps longer, if no apparent buyer comes forward. State officials are girding for either outcome. Said state Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein last week: “The governor has made it pretty clear that she’d like to see Steward sell all of its facilities in Massachusetts to a new operator, and we are working with the governor and across the administration to make that happen. We’re also prepared for whatever might happen in the next few weeks or months.”

• This week, US Sen. Ed Markey led a group of colleagues – including US Reps Stephen Lynch and Ayanna Pressley – in urging the US Department of Labor to step in and protect wages and benefits for Carney and other Steward employees who are understandably fearful of losing pensions and pay.

“Workers and retirees must be protected from further harm resulting from Steward’s gross financial mismanagement,” Markey wrote in a June 17 letter asking the Biden-led agency for “clear communication about changes to plan benefits and administration and assurances that their rights are protected throughout this process.”

• Last week, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has deemed the actions of Steward and its CEO Ralph de la Torre “corporate greed,” stood with union and political leaders outside of Brighton’s St. Elizabeth Medical Center to announce her new legislation that would seek to hold criminally responsible health care executives who “loot health care entities like nursing homes and hospitals if that looting results in a patient’s death.”
Her plan would include six years in jail for future offenders, if convicted. Perhaps more importantly, it would allow state attorneys general to “claw back” pay to private equity execs with a “look-back” of up to 10 years.

These are anxious times for people who depend on Carney for their own care and livelihoods. Our local leaders – and, indeed, all of us who regard Carney as a neighbor and important institution – need to stay on alert in the days and weeks ahead.

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