Since arriving in Boston from rural North Carolina in early May, the new president of financially struggling Carney Hospital in Dorchester — owned by for-profit Steward Health Care System — has had a consistent message for staffers, patients, and community residents.
“What I tell them is we’re going to be a great community hospital,” said Andy Davis, 41. “The Carney is open for business. There’s been substantial investment from Steward, and there will be future investments, not only in capital improvements, but in people.”
Carney, of course, has been open for business since 1863, when it treated Civil War soldiers at its original site in neighboring South Boston. But on-and-off threats in recent years to close the hospital, which lost $20 million in 2011, have left its nearly 1,000 employees and people in the neighborhood nervous. Last month’s sudden departure of Carney’s previous president, long-time Dorchester resident Bill Walczak, added to the anxiety about its future.
One of the first challenges for Davis will be to reassure members of the community, some of whom are skeptical of Steward’s long-term commitment to Carney. As a condition of its 2010 purchase, required by state Attorney General Martha Coakley, Boston-based Steward agreed to keep Carney open for at least three years. That “no-close” promise was extended to five years unless it loses money for two straight years and monitors complete an 18-month review. Regulators would have to be given a six-month notice before a shutdown.
State Representative Martin J. Walsh, Democrat of Dorchester, said Davis shows a feel for the neighborhood despite having just arrived. “I wish Andy well,” Walsh said. “I support the Carney Hospital, so I support Andy. The first meeting we had, he seemed like he was from Dorchester. I hope his bosses let him do what he wants to do for the Carney.”
Walsh, however, said Walczak also was told by Steward that it was committed to Carney. Walczak last month disputed a Steward spokesman’s contention that he had resigned, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of his leaving.
“Bill Walczak’s a friend of mine,” Walsh said, adding, “I don’t think Bill had the opportunity to turn the hospital around.”
Davis, for his part, said he is aware of the neighborhood fallout over Walczak’s departure but is focused on moving forward. A native of the Florida Panhandle and a former hospital controller and chief financial officer, Davis most recently was chief executive of the Davis Regional Medical Center in Statesville, N.C. — the name is coincidental — owned by Health Management Associates, which like Steward is an investor-owned hospital chain.
He said he was attracted to Carney, and to parent Steward, partly because he saw them emerging as leaders in the national trend toward building “accountable care organizations” that integrate health care among hospitals, doctors, rehabilitation and post-acute care facilities. “I felt like I wanted to be part of a system that’s on the cutting edge,” Davis said.
There are other parallels between Carney and his previous post. While more than 60 percent of patients at the North Carolina hospital were covered by Medicaid and Medicare, the government health insurance programs for low-income and older residents, more than 70 percent of Carney’s patients are insured by government payers.
Such insurance often does not cover all of the cost of care. As a so-called safety net hospital, Carney recently received $19.2 million to track patient health and move toward new ways of paying for care, under a state agreement with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Davis said his plan is to eventually make the 186-bed Carney “financially feasible,” but he offered no timetable.
To do that, he said, the hospital must recruit more primary care doctors, expand its patient base in Dorchester, South Boston, Milton, and Quincy, and improve its primary service lines in emergency medicine, cardiology, and orthopedics.
In a meeting with Carney’s board next week, Davis said he will also propose strengthening its outpatient business in radiology, colonoscopies, wound care, and diabetes care. Another focus, he said, will be on educating patients about diet, wellness, and avoiding obesity.
“I’m committed to making the patient experience the optimum,” Davis said. “I want to make sure we treat each patient like our mother and our father, and give them exceptional care. As the only hospital in Dorchester, it’s important for us to reach out to our community.”
Davis, whose wife and daughter will be joining him in Boston this summer, earned a bachelor’s of degree in accounting and a master’s in business administration from Troy University in Troy, Ala., where he also played point guard on the basketball team.
There he had the distinction of taking part in the highest-scoring game in college basketball history, with his Troy beating DeVry University of Atlanta by the score of 258-141 on Jan. 12, 1992. Davis scored the first two points of the game, setting the pace.
“I’m always about success,” Davis said. “I don’t plan for failure.”