Waiting with bated breath for news on Caritas deal

Local elected officials, who have frequently sought to save Carney Hospital from being shuttered, greeted the headline in Friday’s Boston Globe – “Caritas warns of 2 hospital closures” – with caution, saying the hospital chain has frequently mentioned that a New York private equity firm’s ownership investment is necessary if the six-hospital system is to remain viable.

The Globe reported that during contract negotiations with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Caritas Christi officials said that the Carney and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton will be closed if the $830 million deal with Cerberus Capital Management doesn’t go through. Caritas Christi is the Catholic hospital network that owns and operates the Carney, St. Elizabeth’s, and four other Bay State hospitals.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, in a review of the proposal for new ownership that began in May, has to approve the transaction as do the Supreme Judicial Court and the state Department of Public Health. A consumer advocacy group, Health Care For All, has called for heavy scrutiny of the deal.

The attorney general’s approval is needed because the chain would be changed from a nonprofit to a privately held entity owned by a company with investors.

Bill Walczak, head of the Codman Square Health Center, said Caritas officials are pressuring for the proposal to pass quickly. “To me, you never accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish by rushing it,” he said. “We need to do this in a methodical way that achieves the desired results,” he added. “It’s not a good idea to rush this or try to threaten the staff in order to rush this.”

Though the threat of Carney’s possible closure was mentioned for the first time publicly last week, local elected officials, echoing Caritas officials, say that ort of talk has been brought up frequently ever since the proposal was first announced.

“This is what we were told going into this,” said City Councillor Maureen Feeney, whose district includes the Carney. “It’s just scary when you see that headline,” she said.

“I do think Caritas has said they need the transaction to move along,” said state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Dorchester Democrat who supports the proposal. “Caritas has always mentioned that the Carney and St. Elizabeth’s have lost money.” Forry is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.
Said state Rep. Marty Walsh, who also supports the deal: “I think the reality is Caritas needs this partnership.”

Under the agreement, $400 million would be spent across the system within four years of its approval, including $110 million in facility improvements. Proponents also say the improvements are expected to bring between 3,000 and 4,000 new construction jobs.

The deal also guarantees that each of the hospitals will remain open for at least three years, though Dorchester’s elected officials say they’re working to lengthen that to five years or longer.

State Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) said that a “good faith effort” is under way to ensure the deal gets done. “It’s imperative that we do so,” he said.

The Caritas system went into damage-control mode the day of the Globe article. In an e-mail to employees, Caritas Christi Physician Network President Michael Callum and Caritas Christi Network Services President Mark Girard wrote that that they hope the Cerberus acquisition is approved “in the near term, securing the future of all Caritas hospitals.”

“We will continue to keep employees informed of any new developments in that process,” they wrote. “In the meantime, no Caritas Christi hospital, including St. Elizabeth’s and Carney, are slated to be closed.”

Carney and St. Elizabeth’s have been treating patients for over 100 years and “will continue to do so,” they wrote.