Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ties that bind

Martha Bebinger over at Commonhealth gets it quite right when she describes recent comments submitted to the Trial Court about the AG-Partners Healthcare System proposed settlement:

Quite an “only in Massachusetts” moment.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft and leaders of Raytheon, Suffolk Construction and Putnam Investments have all filed letters in support of an anti-trust agreement that would not normally see the light of day before a judge approves the deal. The opposition includes public health professors, a group of top economists and politicians battling Attorney General Martha Coakley in the governor’s race.

Most of the supporters focus on Partners’ leadership in the medical community and don’t dive into the details of its alleged anti-trust practices and the proposed remedies.

John Fish, chairman and CEO at Suffolk Construction, says Partners is “vital to the city and region’s economy.” 

Suffolk is the largest general contractor in Massachusetts, with double the volume of the next ranked firm.  Health care facilities are a major business line for the firm.

For those outside the state--and perhaps for some of those inside--let's review the association this latter commenter has with the Partners health care giant.  In so doing, I don't mean to impugn anybody's reputation or the quality of his work--or his commitment to the community or any heartfelt personal feelings he may have about the deal--but I do mean to suggest that there are business relationships present that are worth noting and rightfully could have been included in the story.

A major tenant in Patriot Place in Foxboro is Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center. Regular readers will recall when I wrote about this 75,000 square foot facility in 2009. Here's a picture:

Guess who built that structure?  Suffolk Construction.

The Patriot Place structure is not the only PHS building completed by Suffolk.  A major one in the Longwood area is 420,000 square foot Shapiro Cardiovascular Center.  Here:

And then there is this advanced modality suite at Brigham and Women's Hospital. And a forthcoming 620,000 square foot research center at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

If we assume very conservative construction costs ($1000 per square foot is not unusual in the Longwood Medical Area), the capital cost of these buildings likely exceeds $1 billion. Now to be fair, Suffolk has also done work for other hospitals in the Boston area, including a small addition at a community hospital owned by BIDMC, but clearly the major construction in town has been at the PHS facilities.

Given Suffolk's relationship with other hospitals on those other building projects and their opposition to the AG's deal, if you were a major construction firm, wouldn't you choose to remain neutral?  Why would you risk annoying Partners' competitors by affirmatively supporting the agreement?  Perhaps this is what Martha meant by an "only in Massachusetts" moment.


Unknown said...

And "to be fair," what is the difference between a Partners business partner commenting positively about Partners and all the Partners competitors commenting negatively about Partners (and even causing this further waste of taxpayer money in further investigating and commenting on straightforward business arrangements in a way that actually seems to violate anti-trust laws... against collusion)? The only issue is the law. Partners didn't break it.

nonlocal MD said...

Actually Dennis, no one knows if Partners broke the anti-trust law because there has been no trial, nor even a charge. We have only the word of your AG that they didn't, who is a gubernatorial candidate who certainly would not want to piss off perhaps the most powerful business in the state. (And that word goes against the findings of her own investigation, hmmm.)

Like everything involving Partners in your state, emotion trumps science and logic on all sides. I have certainly seen cases where health systems control cities, but controlling an entire state in which most of the inhabitants are well educated and many are academics? Pretty amazing.