Upbeat is the mood at Carney

The two physicians who head the management team at Carney Hospital painted a bright picture of the hospital’s fiscal condition and outlook for the future last week for a breakfast audience of legislators, health care advocates and other business and civic leaders.

Speaking to their guests in the hospital’s auditorium, Caritas Christi Health Care CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre and Carney president Dr. Daniel O’Leary said there has been a dramatic turnaround in the fiscal picture of both the hospital and the Caritas Christi system, which owns Carney, since De la Torre and his new management team were installed at Caritas in May 2008.

“Our strongest point is our operations; we turn a profit better than anyone in Massachusetts and I don’t care who tells you otherwise,” de la Torre  said in his remarks. “We can show you efficiency reports [that indicate] we operate better than anyone in Massachusetts. Our problem is access to capital, and being able to fund capital investments.”

O’Leary praised the assistance that Caritas has given to the Dorchester hospital. “The support has been terrific. It’s an ongoing story,” he said. “Carney is in a much better place. We have 1,000 jobs, and most of the people who work here come from the communities that we serve. Caritas has invested between $7million and $8 million in improvements in Carney Hospital in the last year. That’s a terrific investment.

“We’re very ‘green’ now. When we take a tour of the hospital, I show the power plant because I am proud of it. That’s a $2 million investment that you don’t see.”

O’Leary also pointed to a litany of other improvements of the physical plant on the Carney campus, enumerating such things as power washing the building’s exterior brick façade, filling potholes, repaving all the roadways, and planting flowers and shrubs in the spring.

 “We’re making the place look better,” he said. “We put in a new Copeland surgical center, and a hyperbaric chamber. We’re redoing office suites, putting in new signage, we’re making the patient areas much nicer, and adding digital mammography. We’re putting in a diabetes center, which is very important in this community. Back then, the lobby was dark and dank; now it’s full of light.
“When I came here four years ago, it was difficult to get doctors to come to Carney. They weren’t sure of our future, and whether we would still be here. That’s behind us now,” O’Leary said. “People know we have a future, and it’s a good future.”

He said that Caritas was planning to build three new operating rooms this year, at a cost of $3 million. “The ultimate investment here is in people, and the people and physicians who work here, and Carney is going to be here for a long time. “

De la Torre said he was committed to building  on the strengths of being a group of community hospitals. “When we first started two years ago we asked the question ‘who are we and what are our core values?’ We are a system of community hospitals. In the past there has been some stigma to community hospitals, but times are changing. It means that your commitment is to the community that surrounds you. If you’re so good that people want to come from half way across the country that’s good, but that’s not your focus. Your focus is your community.

“If you were to ask what was the most wired hospital in Massachusetts, I would bet you wouldn’t think that Carney is at the top of the list, but it is. We are in the top one percent of hospitals in the nation and as wired as any hospital in Massachusetts.

“Moving into the future, who are we?  We are a system of community hospitals, we are committed to the community,” he told the audience. “If you have problems in the community, let us know. We will do whatever it is we can to help. We are dedicated not just to being in the community, but serving the community, to be part of the community, with all the responsibility that that entails.”

The Caritas CEO said he has identified the network’s strengths and weakness “Our strongest point is our operations; we turn a profit better than anyone in Mass and I don’t care who tells you otherwise.

“What is our weakness? Capital. We don’t have a huge endowment. [In this weak economy], access to the capital markets and the bond markets is very difficult. It would have been easy as management to sit back and say, okay, we will wait until this blows over and we can access capital so we can invest in our plants. But it’s much harder to say, ‘We’re having trouble getting access to capital, but you know what? It’s nothing compared to what’s going on in our communities, where unemployment has gone right through the roof.’”

He said Caritas expects to invest heavily in its six hospitals in the coming months. “So now more than ever is the time for us to invest in the communities. And that’s why we forge ahead with this $100 million building projects. Looking ahead, when people feel better about the community, this is the time to invest.”