Dot health leaders press case for Carney's survival

Local health center leaders are taking preemptive moves to stoke up public awareness of the Caritas Carney Hospital's importance after what many of them call concerning visits by one of Caritas Christi Health Care's hired consultants.

The Carney is part of Caritas Christi, which hired Huron Consulting Group's Wellspring Partners in January to look into how to preserve the acute care hospital after financial losses attracted the attention of elected officials and Attorney General Martha Coakley. Since then, consultants Dawn Gideon and Curtis Olson have been on the job for Wellspring, but Olson's interviewing style has been rubbing some in the health community the wrong way.

"We are concerned about Caritas' consultant's report. If that report is unduly negative, it will have the effect of turning public opinion against Carney's ability to survive," said Dan Driscoll, director of Neponset Health Center.

Driscoll said Olson started his interview with 'what if' questions about reconfiguring the Carney, such as: 'What would you think if we reduced Carney to 60 beds?'

"I'm sure they would respond that it was a hypothetical question," Driscoll said, "but it's obviously on somebody's mind."

Margaret Carr, spokesperson for the Carney, said the possibility wouldn't be ignored by the consultants, but emphasized that the directive given to them was to look at ways to increase patient volume. That volume is already going up, she added, as is revenue from operations.

In the first quarter of the hospital's fiscal year (FY) 2008, which ended Dec. 31, 2007, Carney eked out a $136,000 profit from operations.

"That's a swing from last year," Carr said. By comparison, the first quarter of FY 2007 saw a $912,000 loss from operations.

But Driscoll's wasn't the only radar to go up when consultants walked in the room. Joel Abrams, director of Dorchester House and Bill Walczak, director of Codman Square Health Center both reported the impression that one consultant seemed predisposed to big changes at the Carney, although only Abrams identified the consultant as Olson.

"I thought he might have already had certain ideas… about how Carney might be reconfigured," said Abrams, adding that he had to call Olson to clarify a point that he had made after a colleague told him he heard Olson repeat it incorrectly.

The interviews, held in mid-December last year, and other concerns prompted Abrams andDriscoll to sign a letter reiterating the Carney's importance to Dorchester and Mattapan, printed in last week's Reporter. Walczak agreed with the sentiment in a phone interview this week.

"Without a Carney Hospital ER things get much more complicated in getting emergency health care in Dorchester," said Walczak. "The psych beds they have there are very needed, and very rare, and their general services frankly cost a lot less. A Dorchester without Carney has a gaping hole in it when it comes to the provision of health care."

The Carney's woes garnered public attention after a third quarter FY 2007 loss of $1.9 million and a 10 percent drop in patient volume were reported in the fall of last year. Various sources cited problems associated with the shift to Massachusetts' new universal healthcare system, lack of capital investment, and a lack of a permanent CEO.

The Reporter has learned that hospital staff, including interim Caritas Christi CEO John Chessare, were largely uninvolved in negotiations to interest two larger Catholic chains in purchasing and investing in the chain in 2006. Their absence underlines confusion reported in the Boston Globe about decision-making hierarchy in the chain's management. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston owns Caritas, and aside from the CEO and hospital presidents there is also a Board of Governors weighing in on how to deal with the crisis at hand.