Friday, November 02, 2007

White knight for Carney Hospital

I have an idea, and I am going to offer it with all seriousness and with no sarcasm or animosity. In today's Boston Globe, Jeff Krasner writes about the sad status of Caritas Carney Hospital. Of all the hospitals in the Caritas Christi system, Carney seems to be in the most trouble, and it has been for years, notwithstanding millions of dollars of state aid, $4 million this year alone. Nonetheless, the hospital enjoys great local affection and ongoing support from the Mayor and many state legislators.

If today's story is correct, the hospital and the community and elected officials are now courting a suitor to take it over and have it separate from the Caritas Christi system. In the past, nationwide suitors for Caritas Christi actually cited Carney as one of the factors for not taking over the entire system, so it is difficult to imagine any of the hospitals in Boston as being interested. The potential financial liabilities are just too great for most of us, who have narrow operating margins to start with and are facing our own financial challenges over the coming years. And for the Partners Healthcare System, which might have the financial resources, there are already too many concerns about market power in the Boston metropolitan area.

Here's the proposal. There is one organization in town with a strong interest in hospital management and with the financial resources to take this on -- the Service Employees International Union. SEIU has millions of dollars at its disposal (reportedly over $20 million) to organize workers in Massachusetts, a local staff of some 200 people, and a desire to prove that it can improve the working conditions and quality and safety in area hospitals. I am guessing it also has a pension fund for its members, with many millions available for investment.

So why not approach SEIU with a proposal to have the union purchase, own and operate Carney Hospital? Let the union show how it can handle the full panoply of issues of running a hospital and demonstrate how it can profitably operate a neighborhood facility without the kind of state aid that has been pouring into Carney for all these years. Let the union negotiate contracts with the insurance companies, encourage access for low-income patients, maintain high regulatory standards for patient care, and do all the other things required of hospital management, while, of course, providing excellent working conditions for staff members and physicians.

What better way for the SEIU to demonstrate its potential value to the community than to take on this worthy assignment and to do a good job at it? You can read many statements by the SEIU that seem consistent with the mission of the Carney. As I say, although I may be accused of doing otherwise, I am offering this suggestion with no sarcasm or animosity. In terms of financial resources, industry experience, and stated values and mission, there is an obvious white knight in this situation, and it is 1199SEIU.

24 comments:

yogibear_ said...

Old Jungle saying: "Let Sleeping Serpents Lie...."
I am convinced that you have better abilities than Tarzan but why do you have to Tom-Tom it all over the Bush?

Robert Yokl said...

Paul, from what I have seen in the national news the who system is having issue based on trying to have Ascension Health come in and take them over back in the Spring. Right now the focus may be on Carney but there could be more coming soon.

Older cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelpha (we still have too many) and Chicago where once everyone lived in the cities but many now commute do not have the need for the large amount of facilities as they once had. It is a shame but a reality that the customers of Carney will go to other areas to get their hospital care, they just may be a bit more inconvenienced in doing so to there is no lack of quality facilities in these big cities like Boston.

Paul Levy said...

True, but there is a great local desire to save Carney, notwithstanding the forces you note. It is that desire that I was addressing. The state can't afford to continue throwing money at the problem, and so some third party will need to step up to the plate if it is to occur.

Anonymous said...

You do sort of sound sarcastic--hate to say it. You have issues with the union and seem to want to throw it in their face--if you think you can do better, etc. Just my not so humble. Do you seriously think this would be a wise investment of pension funds?

Paul Levy said...

Put aside what you might think about me or my agenda and just consider the idea on its merits.

(And actually, not just for Carney, but for troubled hositals across the country that are important to a local community.)

By the way, if it is not a wise investment of pension funds, is it a wise investment of taxpayer funds?

Patient Dave said...

I think it's a legitimate suggestion. To really hear it, we do need to put aside our opinions pro or con about any party on any side, and just think about the idea.

It would be a great opportunity for the enrolled workers and union management to demonstrate their skills in action. Might generate a lot of community support, too, from those who want to keep their local hospital.

James said...

Robert,

The Carney is not a hospital whose patients by in large live in or will travel to suburban areas for care. It is not like one of the Longwood area institutions. It primarily serves the residents in its local area of Dorchester and South Boston. There is great need there for this hospital. It is not on the banks of the Schuylkill. It's on the Neponset.

Anonymous said...

Taking the idea on its merits, what does the union have to say?

A response from anyone with the union would be good right about now...

Anonymous said...

I expected comments that perceived your remarks as sarcastic but I applaud you for out-of-the-box thinking. I think its a terrific idea to explore. If the auto union is going to manage the pension fund, why not have the SEIU manage a hospital? They clearly have the resources and purport to have the expertise--GO FOR IT SEIU!

Anonymous said...

The taxpayers do not have to make a profit.

Rob said...

Yah know. That's a really brilliant idea. Seriously.

Have them show us how it's done. At worst, they can learn about the administrative side of things. At best, they can come up with some creative ways to solve problems.

Why not?

Paul Levy said...

Right, Rob and anon 1:51. A friend of mine has also pointed out that, in Europe, it is not uncommon for unions to own and operate nursing homes and other such institutions on behalf of their members.

And anon 1:55, taxpayers do not have to make a profit but legislators do have to consider alternative uses of tax revenues.

Anonymous said...

Good proposal Paul, Let them put their money where their mouths are right?

The Carney may not make it as a traditional hospital but with the right management it could be used for a homeless shelter for the city of Boston.

I porpose that the City buy the carney and make it a homeless shelter and drug rehab facility.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

SEIU on you!

Paul Levy said...

Not sure what that means exactly, but I post it for others to interpret.

Jeff said...

Maybe I don't know enough about the activities of unions but this doesn't seem like their function. They exist to protect their members, to bring them added bargaining power for things that benefit them (higher salaries, better working conditions, benefits). Sure they have done it in Europe but it's still not their intended function and they may not be organized or staffed to do it correctly.

It'd be like telling a political journalist who criticizes the government to try to run things himself.

EB said...

Bravo, Paul! What better way for them to prove their case and create proof for others to join their ranks.

Better yet, perhaps let them turn the hospital into the exclusive provider for SEIU/1199 medical services and let them better manage their health benefits a la a true "covered lives" managed care model.

Barry Carol said...

Since I'm not from the Boston area, I don't know what the hospital's issues are that threaten its viability. Is its occupancy rate persistently too low? Is it poorly run? Does it have too many low profit services and not enough high profit offerings? Does it serve a disproportionate number of people who lack health insurance? If the Boston market has more hospital beds than it can realistically support, some of them need to disappear, no matter how "beloved" an institution may be. Nobody owes anyone a job, and it is unwise to drain tax dollars to prop up a failing hospital. Nationwide, the number of hospital beds has been declining for more than 25 years and that trend is likely to continue. Shouldn't the nurses and other hospital workers be readily absorbed by the remaining hospitals, if not immediately than over a period of months? I doubt if you will find many local residents volunteering to pay higher taxes to keep the place in business. If no other institution is prepared to step in and take it over, it should close.

Anonymous said...

This evasive tactic of challenging a Union to manage a hospital does not dismiss the fact that you still do not want your hospital unionized and still will not sign a "free and fair election agreement" so that your workers can organize without harassment or threat of termination/intimidation. Levy knows that workers at his facility are paid less than other workers in comparable hospitals in Mass. He also knows that despite his "liberalism" workers cannot organize a Union. I have a suggestion, let workers have a Union at Beth Isreal. If the Union works well with Levy's administration then having a Union organize or manage other hospitals is a good suggestion. Otherwise, Levy is offering a suggestion and not giveing his workers the right to organize. Thank you Levy for being the great "liberal" that you are. Do you have any other brilliant suggestions? Workers at Beth Isreal Deaconess would like to know. Probably you can teach your employees how to "run a hospital" fairly.

Paul Levy said...

Why do you insist on attributing a political label to me and then asserting that it does not apply? I think it is a really odd kind of argument. This does not have anything to do with whether I am a liberal or conservative or somewhere in between.

And my post is not an evasive tactic. I actually think it would be a good idea. If you do not, please address it on its merits as others have done in the comments before yours. On the topic you mention, I have been absolutely out front and direct for many months -- hardly evasive.

And finally, as you know fully, our workers have the right to organize.

Steve said...

the state's three largest private insurance companies have agreed to pay for the consultant's study. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Tufts Health Plan will split the as-yet-undetermined fee


If this story is to continue to be dragged out , why doesn’t someone explore who thought that taking money from 3 companies who are currently in contract negotiations with Caritas isn’t a conflict. Could it be that the AG may be doing someone else’s bidding
All hospitals best watch out!

Anonymous said...

I think this is a good idea.

The main problem with affiliating Carney with another entity is not finding a suitor (local or national). Rather, finding a buyer that is Catholic or committed to maintaining Carney as a Catholic institution.

As it stands, the Cardinal is committed to only transferring ownership of the hospital (along with the rest of the system) to another Catholic organization. If he were to change this position I expect Carney's future could be much different.

Narsbars said...

By donating your services you could alleviate the hospital of one million dollars of the 4 million in aid they received. No that is unfair. I propose you accept a $150,000.00 salary, union provided health care, a personal vehicle paid for from hospital funds to be used only for commuting and what ever benefits the other Union members would get.
Make the offer and prove that you actually care about the patients and not the patient$.

Anonymous said...

It might happen in another industry. Look at this:

Markets

Nov. 2, 2007, 4:38PM
Teamsters Back Interstate Bakeries Bid

© 2007 The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle's investment firm, Yucaipa Cos., said Friday that it would join Bimbo Bakeries USA and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in an effort to buy Interstate Bakeries Corp.

Kansas City-based Interstate Bakeries, which filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2004, has already lined up about $400 million in financing from specialty lender Silver Point Finance LLC if or when it emerges from bankruptcy.

However, that deal hinges on the Kansas City-based maker of Hostess Twinkies and Wonder Bread reaching an agreement with the Teamsters, its largest union. The Teamsters have fought the deal, saying health and welfare concessions and changes in the company's distribution system would cost union jobs.

A bankruptcy judge in Kansas City had given Interstate Bakeries and the Teamsters, which represents 9,500 Interstate employees, until Nov. 7 to work out their differences.

Yucaipa filed papers Friday, noting that Interstate Bakeries and the Teamsters have not reconciled their differences. Yucaipa said its plan would not require outside financing and would give most of the parties in the bankruptcy a better payoff than Interstate Bakeries' proposal.

It also said Bimbo Bakeries, a Fort Worth, Texas-based company that makes such brands as Entenmanns, has the expertise to successfully fix Interstate Bakeries' financial and market problems.

The Teamsters released a statement saying the plan would save tens of thousands of jobs. It also said Yucaipa and Bimbo Bakeries had both committed to recognizing union members' sacrifices and to positioning the company for future growth.

"Under IBC's plan, our members were being asked to make the largest sacrifice, putting their faith in an untested delivery system in (an) entity that had little room for error," Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said in the statement. "It was a recipe for another bankruptcy."

Yucaipa's filing asked the judge to end Interstate Bakeries' exclusive right to file a plan of reorganization, to deny approving the financing package with Silver Point and to give it three weeks of access to Interstate's information to formulate a final reorganization plan.

Interstate Bakeries said in a statement Friday that the company believes its reorganization plan is the best alternative to maximize value for parties in the bankruptcy, build competitive advantage and save employees' jobs.

"If Yucaipa or anyone else has a better proposal to help IBC emerge from Chapter 11, secure jobs and maximize value for creditors, the company will welcome the opportunity to review the details of any such proposals," the statement added.

Interstate has closed 13 of its 54 bakeries and eliminated 7,000 of its 32,000 jobs since filing for bankruptcy.