Approval, apprehension greet proposed Caritas system sale

Elected officials, Caritas Christi employees, community activists, and Dorchester residents are voicing both approval and apprehension over the proposed sale of the Caritas Christi Health Care network, which includes Carney Hospital, to Cerberus, a private firm based in New York.

At a public hearing on the proposal last week in the packed auditorium of the IBEW Local 103 Hall, many officials, residents, and Carney employees voiced their support for the $830 million deal, capital from which could infuse between $15 and $20 million into Caritas Carney alone.

“This would be good news for Carney Hospital, our economy, Dorchester, and the entire city of Boston,” Mayor Thomas Menino said. “This is a good deal for all of us.”

Many speakers argued the sale would provide much-needed stability for the Caritas system, which has long suffered financial troubles, and cited Caritas Carney’s benefits, among them its employment opportunities.

“Personally, there’s for my family and myself a little more stability,” Carney employee Ron Walters said of the hospital, which is Dorchester’s largest single employer. “With more money being brought into the Carney, there’s a sense of a little more, oh well, comfort,” he added.

The Local 25 Teamsters union displayed its approval of the transaction by hanging an enormous sign from two big rig trailer trucks outside the hall reading, “Save the Carney. Approve the Deal.”

In the midst of testimony praising the deal, several speakers expressed anxiety about the transaction, citing the potential for cutbacks on services due to Cerberus’s for-profit nature.

“Cerberus is a venture capital firm,” said Daniel Driscoll, president of Harbor Health Service, Inc. “They have a fiduciary responsibility to produce a rate of return for the people who invest their money with them. Caritas has not made money in years. What will be done to take a hospital network that we’ve been told is about to close and make it attractive to investors?”

Dorchester’s state Reps. Marty Walsh and Linda Dorcena Forry said they supported the sale, noting that capital from the deal will help ensure Caritas Carney’s future and lessen its financial difficulties.
But Walsh and Forry, who is married to Dorchester Reporter managing editor Bill Forry, also expressed worries over the future of Caritas Carney’s partnership with community health centers and the continuation of the hospital as a primary care provider.

“We need to make sure that Carney Hospital stays as a hospital and a community-based provider,” said Walsh.

“The Carney Hospital and Caritas system have to continue to work with our health centers,” Walsh added. “They are a vital part of our community. We need to make sure we continue a partnership — not a business, but a partnership — in our communities.”

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, complained about a clause in the deal that allows the buyers to abandon Caritas Christi’s Catholic identity and mission in return for a $25 million payment to a charity chosen by the Archdiocese of Boston. “We want that clause deleted,” Doyle said.

Last Thursday’s hearing was the sixth and final meeting slated by Attorney General Martha Coakley. Similar arguments in favor of the deal and concerns were expressed at the other meetings.
The New York-based Cerberus formally filed its plans to acquire Caritas Christi, a non-profit network of six Catholic hospitals, with the attorney general’s office on May 6. By law, Coakley is required to review the sale when a non-profit is purchased by a for-profit corporation. She will consider the testimonies of speakers at the hearings during her review.

Coakley said at the meeting that her review would be completed in the next few months. The sale must also be approved by the state Department of Public Health, the state Supreme Judicial Court, and the Vatican.

If state officials, justices, and the Catholic Church sign off on the sale, $400 million will be spent across the Caritas system within four years of the deal’s approval — including $110 million in facility improvements that will allow the system to “provide state-of-the-art facilities to some of the poorest communities in Massachusetts,” according to a document filed by Caritas with Coakley’s office. These improvements are expected to create between 3,000 to 4,000 construction jobs.
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