After 14 months at the helm, Savin Hill’s Bill Walczak is out as president of Carney Hospital. The sudden shake-up raises questions about the future of the Dorchester Avenue facility, which was sold to a private equity firm in 2010 and is now facing the appointment of its fourth president in two years.
The news of the Carney-Walczak break-up was greeted with words of disappointment from members of the hospital’s board of directors and Dorchester’s State House delegation.
Walczak, the former head of the Codman Square Health Center, and Chris Murphy, speaking for the company that owns the Carney, declined to cite a reason for his departure, but Murphy backed away from his statement of last Friday that he had resigned after Walczak, who had been out-of-state over the weekend, on Tuesday disputed those comments, saying, “The only thing I’m willing to say right now is I did not resign.” Walczak had been working on a strategic plan for the hospital before his departure.
Asked Tuesday about Walczak’s rebuttal, Murphy said, “The decision for Bill to leave Carney was mutual.” Pressed again about what Walczak said, Murphy acknowledged the information provided on Friday had been inaccurate and again said the decision was “mutual.”
In a memo sent to employees and to Steward Health Care System chairman and CEO Ralph de la Torre, the company’s chief operating officer, Josh Putter, wrote that “Walczak and Steward Health Care have decided to part ways effective immediately.”
Putter added, “In the meantime, be assured of our unwavering commitment to making Carney a world class community resource for the citizens of Dorchester.”
Margaret Hanson, the former president of Norwood Hospital, is stepping in as interim chief. “We expect to announce a permanent replacement shortly,” said Putter.
Carney, the first Catholic hospital in New England, was part of a chain sold by the Archdiocese of Boston two years ago to Steward, which has also bought up several other hospitals in the Bay State, including Quincy Hospital. Steward is a subsidiary of the New York-based private equity firm Cerberus.
Reaction from the board and members of the community was charged with disappointment and concern.
“I thought Bill provided strong leadership and whatever the reason for their parting of ways, we on the board still see a very strong strategic future for Carney and await that conversation with Steward,” said James Hunt, Jr., the president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
Jack Shaughnessy, a member of Carney’s board and a former chairman, said he did not know the reasons behind the departure and expressed surprise at Walczak’s statement. “The only thing I know is what I read in the newspapers,” Shaughnessy said. “I’m surprised to hear you say that. It was my belief that from reading the newspapers that he had resigned. I can’t comment on that since I don’t have any direct knowledge. In my judgment, he is very capable and very hardworking. I’m sorry to see him go.”
Shaughnessy declined to guess the reasons for Walczak’s departure. “It may have possibly been some disagreement between him and senior management,” he said. “I don’t know and I don’t want to speculate.”
State Sen. Jack Hart, who once pitched the idea of Walczak heading up the Boston Medical Center to Mayor Thomas Menino, said the fear of a shutdown of Carney remains. The sale of Carney Hospital, along with five other hospitals in the nonprofit Caritas Christi system, included a promised influx of capital and a guarantee that the facilities would continue to operate as general acute care hospitals for at least three years.
“I have the highest regard for Bill Walczak and I’m disappointed that for whatever reason this hasn’t worked out,” Hart said.
State Rep. Marty Walsh said he was “extremely disappointed” in the news and the fact that Steward had not briefed elected officials on Walczak’s departure.
UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley, who chairs Carney’s board of directors, declined to comment. James Karam, a member of Steward Health Care’s board of directors and chairman of the UMass board of trustees, was not available for comment.
When asked why there was no listing of the board members on the hospital’s website, a Carney spokesman referred the Reporter to Steward’s offices, then abruptly hung up the phone.
Walczak, who spent 36 years at Codman Square Health Center, was hired to head the Carney in January 2011, succeeding Sister Marie Puleo as chief of the 159-bed facility. Puleo, a Dorchester native, was serving as interim president after the abrupt departure of Dr. Daniel O’Leary, which came after he sent out an e-mail asking friends and associates to join him at a fundraiser for his brother, a state senator who was running for Congress. O’Leary, who spent four years as Carney president, later sent an e-mail apologizing for the solicitation and rejoined the Steward Health care network as a physician elsewhere.
Walczak’s short tenure had its ups and downs. Months into the job, he terminated 29 staffers within Carney’s adolescent psychiatry unit, an action stemming from an allegation of a sexual assault against a patient. The allegation was investigated and reported to the state Department of Mental Health, which led to an independent report from former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who recommended the unit’s replacement.
But there were positives, too, including Walczak’s move in February, poaching Dr. Glennon O’Grady from Lawrence General Hospital to head up Carney’s Family Medicine department. Walczak and O’Grady were hoping to open a maternity ward, which Carney does not have.
Carney Hospital, built in 1863 and named after Andrew Carney, a 19th century Boston philanthropist, moved to Dorchester from South Boston in 1953. The facility boasts a history of firsts in medicine, according to its website: Boston’s first outpatient department, the first abdominal surgery, the first plastic hip operation in the United States, and the first medical emergency rooftop heli-stop in the Bay State.
Bob Guyon, executive vice president of Steward, said at the time of Walczak's hiring that the Savin Hill resident, who is originally from New Jersey, was a "blue-sky thinker," adding, “I think he was attracted to us because – just like 30 years ago -- he has an opportunity to do something very unique and transformative at Carney Hospital. We’re at a unique time in health care at all levels and Carney is in a unique time in its history.”
Reporter Publisher Ed Forry contributed to this report.