Judge Approves Hospitals July Sale Plan; Councilors Implore Healey to Save Haverhill Campus

Haverhill campus of Holy Family Hospital. (WHAV News photograph.)

A federal bankruptcy court judge on Monday blessed the process that bankrupt Steward Health Care plans to use to sell or auction its 31 nationwide hospitals and physicians network in the coming weeks, including Holy Family Hospital campuses in Haverhill and Methuen.

“Today we’re just outlining procedures and process, and that is what this motion is really about. We’re not picking a winner today, we’re picking a process that will allow parties’ rights and provide transparency to the process, and that’s what today is really about, and that’s what this motion is requesting,” Judge Christopher Lopez said after hearing about half an hour of arguments, almost entirely in support of the timeline Steward proposed.

The timeline that Lopez approved Monday sets a deadline for bids on Steward’s Massachusetts hospitals and hospitals in other states aside from Florida of June 24 and schedules sale hearings to be held before the judge on July 11. Steward is proposing to sell its physician services network, Stewardship Health, along the same timeline.

Meanwhile, however, as WHAV reported last month, Haverhill city councilors officially notified Healey Friday of the city’s desire that the Haverhill campus of Holy Family Hospital remain open as a “full operational, acute care hospital.”

The letter signed by Council President Thomas J. Sullivan points out Haverhill is gateway city with close to 70,000 residents who “deserve medical care close to home.” The letter notes that, consistent with the governor’s goals, Haverhill has approved more than 1,700 housing units, However, he noted, “Access to a local hospital is a major factor people take into consideration when deciding to live or bring their business to a new community like Haverhill.”

In a court filing ahead of Monday’s hearing, Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office said Massachusetts did not object to Steward’s expedited offloading schedule, saying, “Indeed, Massachusetts supports the arrival of a new operator or operators who can provide high-quality patient care to Massachusetts residents.” However, a lawyer representing both Campbell’s office and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services chimed in during Monday afternoon’s bankruptcy court hearing to remind the judge that the state officially reserves its rights to review and act on hospital transfers.

A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice spoke during Monday’s hearing to highlight for Lopez how the timeline, especially as it applies to the sale of Stewardship Health, could conflict with the U.S. governmen’’s antitrust review of the transaction.

Gov. Maura Healey, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have all ruled out a bailout of Steward. But their comments have also not ruled out that the state might need or want to provide some other kind of assistance to make the transition from Steward to other operators a smooth one.

Colin A. Young and Alison Kuznitz of State House News Service contributed to this report.

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