Report: Steward attempted to ‘unload’ Carney Hospital last year

Steward Health Care, a for-profit hospital chain that owns Dorchester’s Carney Hospital, attempted to transfer the Dorchester Ave. facility to Merrimack College, according to a magazine report this week.

CommonWealth magazine, in a lengthy look at Steward Health Care, reported that Merrimack College President Chris Hopey brought the proposal to take over Carney, along with Laboure College, to his college trustees sometime last year.

As the article noted, “But Steward’s overture to Merrimack raised a lot of questions. Why did Steward want to unload Carney, a hospital it acquired only a year before? Was Steward’s focus on community-centric health care unraveling? And could Steward legally transfer Carney to someone else? When Steward purchased the Caritas chain of six Massa­chusetts hospitals in October 2010, the Boston-based company agreed not to close, sell, or transfer a majority ownership interest in any of the hospitals for at least three years. Would a transfer to a third party be a violation of the agreement?”

The magazine’s questions did not prompt many answers from Merrimack College, which is located in Andover, or Steward.

As the magazine notes: “Steward spokesman Christopher Murphy is also tight-lipped. He initially insisted the hospital chain never offered ‘to give away’ any of its hospitals, but refused to discuss whether Steward entered into discussions with Merrimack about the future of Carney. Just before CommonWealth went to press, however, Murphy said it was Merrimack that approached Steward to discuss an academic relationship with Laboure.”

The deal never ended up coming to fruition.

The news of a behind-the-scenes attempt at a deal comes as Carney Hospital is adjusting to new leadership. Andy Davis was brought in as its president, after Bill Walczak, the former head of the Codman Square Health Center, abruptly left in April.

Asked by the Reporter for comment, Murphy on Tuesday morning reiterated what he had told Commonwealth magazine and added that Steward has demonstrated commitment to Carney by bringing in someone of Davis's caliber.