Slow-motion Steward collapse no accident

It finally happened: Steward hit the iceberg that many of us here in Dorchester have seen looming ahead and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Long before Steward’s existential crisis became fodder for headlines and deep-dive stories in regional media, readers of The Reporter were well aware that all was not well at the Dorchester Avenue campus of Carney Hospital. There have been increasingly ominous — and documented — signs for a few years now that the hospital’s corporate overlords in Texas were tightening the tourniquet and bleeding the place dry.

In a March 2023 column titled “Carney’s parent company is neglecting a neighborhood asset,” we warned that “Steward has hollowed out its marketing presence and laid off public-facing employees who used to engage the Dorchester and Mattapan communities. And there has been virtually no effort to tell the public why they should turn to Carney for their health care needs, which makes its prognosis for attracting new patients and, therefore, new revenue, bleaker by the day… Unless Steward starts investing more resources into recruiting patients along with new staff, it’s hard to see a viable path forward.”

That’s not to say that Carney has always been an oasis of tranquility in Massachusetts’ health care maelstrom. Far from it. Dorchester’s hospital has always been “on the bubble” in some respects— going back long before Ralph de la Torre and his private equity raiders entered the equation. It’s always been a blue-collar facility where the dedicated staff are much like the patients they serve – hard-working, neighborhood-oriented, many of them newly minted Americans who put in long hours and pay union dues.

It has never attracted or sought the C-suite crowd that flocks to the downtown hospitals. But Carney always got the job done, close to home, without pretensions, and—for many years— with excellent quality rankings from national watchdogs and a reliable emergency department. Its adjacent medical office building— named for Sr. Elizabeth Seton, a nod to the Catholic nuns who ran the place efficiently for decades— has provided convenient care for a whole range of specialties since your grandmother was seeing her pediatrician.

Whatever the flaws and foibles of past owners, including those habit-donned Daughters of Charity, one thing they never did was squelch on their bills or leave their patients wondering if the joint was going to be open come Dot Day, while they floated across the Mediterranean on their yachts.

That’s precisely the predicament now caused by Dr. de la Torre and his crew, who literally sold the land out from under the Carney— and all of their other properties— and then squandered the profits.

In the meantime, Dorchester and Mattapan— the two communities most dependent on Carney’s services—would do well to brace for more bad news. And that won’t be confined strictly to those of us who still turn to the Carney for medical care. The economic impacts of a full or partial collapse at the Dot Ave. campus to the scores of businesses who serve Carney’s hundreds of employees each week will be profound.

What’s happened here isn’t just another sad story about a well-meaning business running aground; it could very well be a crime.

In filing Chapter 11 on Monday, the Steward brass have finally leaned into their real identity: They’re confidence men who insinuated themselves under false pretenses for the express purposes of enriching themselves at the expense of this neighborhood and dozens more like it across the nation. Our elected officials, particularly those who have the power to probe and prosecute, should expedite proceedings to bring them to justice and “claw back” whatever dollars can be reclaimed to stanch the bleeding they caused.

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