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Steward Health Care woes: an outrage and a crisis rolled into one

Carney Hospital in Dorchester in 2010, the year the Caritas Christi Health Care System was bought by Cerberus Capital Management.Jonathan Wiggs

Bare-bones operation described at some hospitals borders on neglect

Re “At Steward hospitals, things are off” (Page A1, Feb. 1): As a retired registered nurse health care facility inspector for the state Department of Public Health, I can assure you from the sound of things that there is a lot more going on at Steward hospitals than things being “off.” Clinicians and support staff leaving before “something bad” happens, nursing expertise used to count straws instead of providing patient care, lack of comprehensive labor and delivery services, surgeons buying their own instruments, repeated cancellations of procedures, unavailability of bariatric beds used to prevent skin breakdown, and an already overburdened staff forced to provide specialized IV and dialysis tasks that require diligent infection control practices — these issues border on neglect.


Something needs to be done before these deplorable conditions result in more negative patient outcomes than may have already occurred. It’s no wonder staff are resorting to gallows humor.

Karen Vicario


The writer is a registered nurse.

Retired doctor has seen trend to corporatization unfold

The collapse of Steward Health Care is expected in a culture that is obsessed with money and lacks commitment to patients’ humanity. How do we spend nearly 20 percent of the world’s largest gross domestic product on health care and allow community hospitals to fail for lack of money? For starters, by paying unreasonably low fees to doctors and hospitals in places such as Greater Lawrence, where I worked for 27 years.

The doctors were of a different generation when this trend began. As they retired or found the need to sell their practices, medicine became more and more corporatized. Doctors today are browbeaten with metrics to record and numbers to meet.

Imagine a culture that prioritized the humanity of both the patient and the people helping them stay healthy or get well. Everyone, rich and poor alike, would have a better experience in health care. More time with doctors on routine visits would allow for probing questions, listening, empathizing, and providing a better understanding of, say, the ache in your back. This takes time, experience, and resilience for doctors and nurses to develop.


Robustly funded primary and specialty care reduces the need for emergency room visits. Sadly, practicing in this way with our current fee schedules, especially for Medicaid, would make providers pull their hair out with how little they make in private practice, or result in their being endlessly harassed in the corporate world of medicine.

We need a crisis like the one Steward has created to awaken everybody to the root causes of the problem in our culture. Once a shift in priorities occurs, there are countless doctors and nurses with the right priorities to lead us to a better place.

Dr. Michael Connelly

North Andover

The writer is a retired anesthesiologist and pain specialist, previously on the medical staff at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen and Haverhill in the Steward system as well as at Lawrence General and Lowell General.

Consumer watchdogs, care advocates sounded warnings in 2010

In 2010, when Steward Health Care set out with the backing of Cerberus Capital Management to snap up the family of six community-based nonprofit hospitals in the Caritas Christi Health Care system, consumer watchdogs and health care advocates raised a red flag. At public hearings in Fall River, Brockton, Boston, Methuen, and Norwood, regulators were told that Cerberus had a history of taking the money and running.


At the time, Dr. Ralph de la Torre (featured in Brian McGrory’s Feb. 4 commentary, “As hospital chain takes on water, CEO sails the high seas”) painted a rosy picture of Steward’s dedication and devotion to all of the Caritas communities. He and the people at Cerberus seduced doctors and nurses with immediate investments in fancy machines and new hospital wings. They enticed local officials with the promise of new tax money, as the nonprofit hospitals would soon become private companies and bring new revenue to the municipal tax rolls.

As with many equity fund takeovers, the short-term sweeteners secured the sale and the long-term promises went out to sea, just like de la Torre’s $40 million yacht.

Matt Wilson

West Medford

The writer worked with the nonprofit Health Care for All in 2010 around the sale of the Caritas hospitals.

De la Torre was her lifesaving surgeon. Now she aches over what he’s wrought.

Most likely I am alive and healthy today thanks to the innovative and minimally invasive heart surgery performed years ago by Dr. Ralph de la Torre and his cardiac team (before he went on to become CEO of Caritas Christi Health Care and then Steward). My heart hurts now for different reasons, as I read about how our crucial community hospitals are struggling to survive here in Massachusetts and nationwide. Shame on for-profit hospital systems and CEOs for failing to adhere to mission statements, such as this one from de la Torre in 2011: “My goal is to fix health care.”


Nancy King-Bolger