Updated Wednesday, May 19— Dr. Daniel H. O’Leary, who has led Dorchester’s Caritas Carney Hospital for the last four years, abruptly resigned as president last Friday, May 14. His departure comes as the Caritas Christi Health Care system that owns Carney is set to be sold to a for-profit equity firm for a reported $830 million. Sr. Marie Puleo, a senior vice president at Caritas and a Dorchester native, is now serving as the acting president of the Dorchester Avenue hospital.
O’Leary offered no comment when reached by the Reporter this week. Caritas Christi officials say that O’Leary left voluntarily and had been contemplating a departure for some time. Still, O’Leary’s resignation stunned the local health care and political community and his silence on the reasons behind his decision has fueled speculation that O’Leary was forced out by Caritas Christi’s leadership.
The Reporter has obtained two recent e-mails sent by O’Leary that indicate that he may have recently run afoul of Caritas policy regarding his personal political advocacy. In a message sent out on May 8, O’Leary asked friends and associates to join him at a June fundraiser for his brother, Massachusetts State Senator Robert O’Leary, who is running for the 10th Congressional seat that is being vacated this year by William Delahunt. In a subsequent e-mail— sent out on May 13, the day before his resignation— O’Leary writes to “apologize” for sending the solicitiation.
“It has come to my attention that it is inappropriate for me to send such an invitation to anyone connected to Carney Hospital or Caritas. It violates the published rules of compliance of which I should be aware,” O’Leary wrote.
Members of Carney’s board of trustees huddled in a closed-door meeting at the Dorchester Ave. hospital on Monday evening. Several board members refused to comment on what triggered O’Leary’s departure.
However, in a story in the Cape Cod Times that was published on Wednesday, Jack Shaughnessy Sr., who chairs the board of directors, said Caritas officials had “overreacted” when they pressed O’Leary to step down after the e-mail dust-up.
“It is true Dr. O’Leary solicited people who practice, but who are not on the payroll of the hospital,” Shaughnessy told the Cape Cod Times. “Dr. O’Leary told me he was careful not to solicit anyone who was directly employed by the hospital.”
Local lawmakers expressed shock over O’Leary’s departure.
“It appears it was a cumulative thing,” said Dorchester’s district three councillor Maureen Feeney, who declined further comment on potential reasons for his departure. “He helped us weather the storm,” she said, echoing other lawmakers in their praise for O’Leary defending the Carney from threats of closure.
“Carney Hospital would not be there if not for Dan O’Leary’s leadership,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh (D-Savin Hill).
State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Lower Mills) called his departure “shocking,” noting that hospital administrators had said that despite the equity firm buying up the hospital chain, no major staffing changes were expected. “It’ll be interesting to see what led up to this,” she said. “Because I think this took everyone by surprise.”
Mayor Tom Menino called O’Leary a “warrior” and said “he was the hospital.” Menino said he spoke to O’Leary two days before his resignation and nothing seemed amiss.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Caritas Christi’s CEO Ralph de la Torre, MD said that Dr. O’Leary had been offered a new position within the system.
“Dan served Carney well in his five year tenure as president but felt it was time to pursue new career directions including a return to clinical medicine. Dan has been offered the position of Chief of Neuroradiology and is taking time to consider this as well as other opportunities,” said de la Torre.
Caritas spokesman Chris Murphy characterized O’Leary’s decision to resign as his own and said that O’Leary had been contemplating a move away from the president’s job for some time.
De la Torre also praised O’Leary’s replacement — Sr. Puleo— in his statement.
“As a native of Dorchester, Sr. Marie Puleo is well aware of Carney Hospital’s proud tradition of care and service to the community. I have no doubt that Sr. Marie will build on that tradition and help take the care and services offered at Carney Hospital to the next level,” de la Torre said.
Puleo, a member of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, has served most recently as a senior vice president for mission at Caritas Christi. According to a statement issued by Caritas Christi, her duties there have included oversight of operations at Dorchester’s Labouré College.
The murky transition this week comes at a delicate time for the Archdiocesean hospital system. The proposed sale of the non-profit system to Cerberus Capital Management LP, a for-profit firm in New York, is presently under review by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. A series of hearings about the sale, including one here in Dorchester, are expected to be held in the coming weeks.
De la Torre has depicted the sale as a windfall for the Caritas system and told the Reporter last month that the Carney could see up to $20 million in capital investment. According to the filing on initial capital projects, Carney would receive a $10.2 million operating room, a renovation that is set to be made official in a ceremony on June 2. With the switch to a for-profit operation, the deal is also expected to bring nearly $10 million to the city’s tax rolls.
The deal also “guarantees that Carney, along with each of the Caritas hospitals, will continue to operate as a general acute care hospital for at least three years,” the filing says.
News Editor Gintautas Dumcius assisted in the reporting of this story and conducted interviews with elected officials, including Rep. Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry.