Bright new day dawns at Carney

And now for some good news.

Carney Hospital, the venerable, healthcare-giving, life-saving facility that sits right here in the middle of our neighborhood, is restructured and solvent, and appears poised to continue to serve the healthcare needs of Dorchester and Mattapan’s working class residents for generations to come.

It is hard not to be optimistic about the Carney’s future. After several decades of struggling with spiraling healthcare costs and limited maintenance and capital investment, our beloved Carney has emerged out of decades of decline as an integral part of a new owner’s plan that could revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered, both here and across the country.

A new era begins next Monday, when the Carney opens for business with an entirely new management team: a new owner, Steward Health Care, which is a for-profit business already committed to investing $20 million here, including two new surgical units now well on the way to completion; a new CEO, Ralph de la Torre, a visionary 44-year-old heart surgeon who has turned around  the once-moribund Caritas Christi Health Care network; and a new hospital president, Bill Walczak, a 35-year Savin Hill resident and neighborhood activist who has made a career of identifying community needs and finding creative and workable solutions to problems.

The future seems to be bright both for the Carney and the new owner. In a Boston Globe Magazine cover story last Sunday, de la Torre was described as “a major player in Boston’s medical community…. He stunned the medical world by getting a private equity giant to buy a group of debt-drowning community hospitals, but that’s just step one of (his) plan to build a model for the nation.”

Key to the Carney’s future is de la Torre’s vision that his model, called an Accountable Care Organization (ACO,) is the future of American healthcare, wherein most people will receive their care in relatively lower cost community health settings from integrated networks of physicians and community hospitals that share resources and reduce costs.

In an interview with the Reporter last year, de la Torre said,  “I think that Carney has been successful. Sometimes, you just have to have faith in an institution. You have to look at its heart and have faith and say, ‘You know what? I think that it’s going to be successful if you make the investment.’ And that’s what we did with Carney. We looked at it, we looked at the heart of the institution, the people, the value to the community, and said, ‘You know what, if you make this investment, if we make the investment, it’ll be successful,’ and we were right.”

The sense of optimism for the future of healthcare in our community is contagious. There clearly is a new day dawning, and it’s tempting to parallel the changes at Carney and Caritas with the experience of another local institution, the olde town team that plays over at Fenway.

Let’s remember what happened during the last decade when a new ownership and new managers took over the Boston Red Sox: renewed pride, a restored commitment to excellence, and an almost universal return to respectability have recharged this valuable Boston icon. The new owners even revived and restored a century-old ballpark that had been slated for demolition.

Let’s hope that similar success will follow the new Steward ownership of our community hospital. At this writing, one thing seems certain: This could be the home run we supporters of the Carney have been waiting for. Ralph de la Torre seems to be the clean-up hitter we have always hoped for.

– Ed Forry