Dot is winner in Carney deal

What a difference two years can make.

It was the spring of 2008 when a special consultant working for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley released a study that painted a dismal future for Dorchester’s Carney Hospital.

Now just two years later, Caritas Christi, the Catholic hospital network that owns and operates the Carney and five other hospitals announced it will be acquired by a for-profit equity firm, the New York-based Cerberus Capital Management. The $830-million deal will yield a huge capital investment by Caritas into its hospitals.

Caritas CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre told the Reporter in an interview that he and his management team will stay aboard, the Carney’s historic community-based mission will stay in place and be expanded, and the six hospitals will continue to operate as Catholic health care facilities.

“Cerberus feels that basic integrated community health care is really the future of health care, as we do,” de la Torre said. “Next week we are starting work – we are putting $15 million to $20 million into Carney.”

The deal still must gain approvals from regulatory agencies, and the change from a non-profit to a for-profit business will require the approval of the state attorney general.

The news is very positive for the Dorchester/Mattapan neighborhoods, as the change seems to ensure the continued health and viability of their local hospital.

In the Reporter interview this week, Dr. de la Torre expanded on his plans. The final agreement for the sale came a week before President Obama signed the federal health care reform into law.

“They had pretty much decided that some degree of health care reform was going to come down the pike,” he said. “Health care reform creates a healthy environment. With 32 million more people insured, the pressure is on us to deliver – our model is all about high value health care; high quality, low cost health care – and that’s one thing Cerebus was attracted to.”

The Caritas CEO said there were extensive plans for strengthening and growing the Carney’s mission. “What we need to do is expand the services we provide. Our view is that we maximize what that hospital can do for the community.” He cited as examples the plans to build new operating rooms, and expanding women’s health care at the Carney. “We just brought on a urology group who will operate here,” he added.

In her 2008 report, Coakley had suggested abandoning Carney’s traditional role as a community hospital, saying the hospital “should consider further developing, as well as expanding, services such as behavioral and ambulatory health…”

“They didn’t get it right,” de la Torre said of the consultant’s 2008 report. “Sometimes you have to have faith in an institution – you have to look at its heart and say, ‘I think it’s going to be successful if you make the investment.’

“That’s what we did with the Carney. And we were right.”

– Ed Forry