Likely Caritas buyers tour Carney, huddle with staff

Executives from Ascension Health, the national health care company that has entered into an agreement with the Archdiocese of Boston to purchase the Caritas Christi Healthcare system that includes Dorchester's Carney Hospital, met with Carney administrators and board members at a meeting on Monday evening to explain their organization's mission and answer questions on Carney's role under new ownership.

Dr. Daniel O'Leary, president of Carney Hospital, and several board members who attended the meeting described it unanimously as a positive exchange in which Ascension leaders pointed to the similarities between their mission statement and Carney's own structure and assured attendees that the fate of the Carney in the new system was secure.

"We asked them very blunt questions about Carney's future and they clearly seemed to stress that they liked what they saw and liked the challenge that they saw," said Dr. David Lustbader, president of Carney's medical staff. The challenge, he explained, will be a significant investment in much-needed medical and technical equipment for the hospital and a commitment to quality care at a hospital where the patient payer mix is marginally profitable.

"They've made money, clearly," said Lustbader of Ascension. The St. Louis-based organization is the largest non-profit healthcare provider in the United States with hospitals in 20 states and billions of dollars in assets. "Their non-profit status has been challenged in some states because they are so cash-rich. In some ways they might need a hospital like this to maintain non-profit status."

Lustbader added that Ascension officials indicated they had been attracted to a Massachusetts health care provider because of the potential that state legislation passed last year would bring healthcare coverage to all Massachusetts residents.

Several board people who attended the meeting pointed to the similarity between Ascension's core mission statement to: "commit…to serving all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable."

"If we don't fit that bill I don't know what does, and [Ascension representatives] agreed," said Lustbader.

Dr. O'Leary said that he was impressed at the openness and candor with which Ascension officials had addressed questions from Carney stakeholders, and that he left confident that the diagnosis for the Carney was a positive one.

"I think everyone is confident that this means good things for the Carney," said O'Leary.

The sale between Ascension and the Archdiocese of Boston is scheduled for completion on July 1.