Markey and Warren rap Steward stance

U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren excoriated Steward Health Care’s top executive inside Beacon Hill’s largest hearing room on April 3, where they set up an empty chair for CEO Ralph de la Torre, who declined to testify about financial decisions that have jeopardized operations at its Massachusetts hospitals.

During their Senate subcommittee hearing exploring the harms of private equity in the health care sector, Markey and Warren also promoted two new proposals designed to regulation private investments in health care, protect quality of care for patients, and prevent another health care crisis like Steward’s from unfolding elsewhere across the country.

As Markey pointed out, Steward’s footprint extends beyond its hospitals in Massachusetts to its other facilities in Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas that he said are also without the supplies they need.

Markey said de la Torre declined to speak at the hearing, and he said Steward also refused to send another executive who could answer lawmakers’ questions.

“So that seat for their testimony was empty today, as empty as the promises which Steward and Ralph de la Torre had made to the state of Massachusetts,” Markey told reporters after the hearing, which lasted just under two hours in Gardner Auditorium.

“So, we’re going to make sure that Dr. de la Torre and Steward become nationally famous, that they become the example of the dangers of allowing private equity to take over a health care system,” Markey continued. “And we’re not going to stop until we put the safeguards in place that protect patients, protect doctors and nurses from having a medical system that is looted.”

Markey, Warren and state legislators trained their focus on Steward this year after the company›s financial problems spilled into public view, in part stemming from a backlog of unpaid rent tied to the sale of Steward›s real estate to Medical Properties Trust. Gov. Maura Healey has rebuked Steward for not providing financial documents to state regulators and called on the company to exit the commonwealth’s health care market.

A Steward spokesperson declined to comment about why de la Torre did not appear at the state capitol. The spokesperson also declined to weigh in on the senators’ scathing remarks made about de la Torre and the company during the hearing.

Warren called de la Torre’s absence “cowardice.”

“Shame on Dr. de la Torre,” Warren said. “He owes the residents of Massachusetts an explanation for his part in looting Steward hospitals.”

Last week, Markey said Steward “is emblematic of a national problem that requires a national solution” and said transparency and accountability reforms are needed “to guarantee that our country has a health care system, not a wealth care system.”

Markey said his draft bill unveiled Wednesday, called the Health over Wealth Act, could bolster transparency and accountability for private equity and for-profit companies. Markey said it would require private equity companies to set aside funding to safeguard access to patient care, provide a “bigger voice” for health care workers and patients to review and block potential deals, and require for-profit companies to disclose their financial information and staffing levels, among other components.

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