With Hospital Crisis Unresolved, Leaders Call for Health Equity, Support for Lawrence General

With the crisis still unresolved at Steward Health Care, owner of Holy Family Hospitals in Haverhill and Methuen, a top community health leader urged the legislature not to let “distractions” stymie the push for major health care reforms.

Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers President Michael Curry called on lawmakers to display the “same sense of urgency that we had during COVID,” arguing that residents in communities of color continue to suffer as a result of health care disparities. “We for some reason had urgency in the pandemic that we’ve lost since the pandemic when, in fact, those same communities are dying, but it’s not COVID,” Curry told attendees at a legislative briefing yesterday. “It’s diabetes, it’s heart disease. It’s a whole list of things.”

“Saving lives is just as important today as it was three years ago,” he added. “I know we have a budget downturn, a fiscal crisis, we’ve got all kinds of distractions with potential losses of hospitals, but we do great things in difficult circumstances.

Holy Family Hospital’s Landlord ‘Encouraged by the Amount of Interest’ in Steward’s Properties

Holy Family Hospital’s landlord said Wednesday that Steward Health Care hospitals have drawn significant interest from other potential operators, the latest hint that facilities might soon be transferred away from the financially floundering for-profit system. A day after Gov. Maura Healey issued a biting call for Steward to hand off its licensed, operational Bay State hospitals to new parties “as soon as possible,” the firm that owns the hospital real estate suggested there could be a willing market. “With regard to Steward, we are encouraged by the amount of interest received to date from other hospital operators for these mission-critical facilities, and we expect this real estate portfolio will either resume its contributions to earnings or become additional sources of liquidity as the year progresses,” said Medical Properties Trust CEO Edward Aldag Jr.

At the same time, MPT—which in January said Steward owed it about $50 million in unpaid rent—appeared to open the door to steering more money to its tenant. MPT officials said in a news release about fourth-quarter finances that the firm is negotiating with other “asset-backed lenders” of Steward on $37.5 million in bridge funding, based on the hospital system hitting milestones established in January. The real estate firm said it had already funded $20 million of that request.

State Places Monitors at Holy Family; Trahan Pushes ‘Essential Health System’ Plan

Expressing uncertainty about the future of safety-net hospitals owned by Steward Health Care, Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein said Wednesday state overseers will expand their monitoring of all nine facilities by next week in their bid to protect patient safety and quality. Goldstein said Department of Public Health surveyors have already been paying daily visits for “several weeks” to Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and Methuen, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. Steward’s hospitals serve primarily low-income vulnerable residents who have public health insurance coverage. Surveyors added Carney Hospital in Dorchester and Morton Hospital in Taunton to their list of monitoring visits this week as Steward grapples with major financial problems that have prompted fears about potential facility closures.

Top House Leaders: No Steward Hospital Bailout, Taxpayers Already Gave $54 Million in COVID-19 Aid

Angered over the serious financial challenges at Steward Health Care that could jeopardize the future of safety net hospitals in eastern Massachusetts, top House Democrats insisted Thursday they will not bail out the company, while acknowledging the hospitals received $54 million in taxpayer money already. Steward, which owns Holy Family Hospital campuses in Haverhill and Methuen, said last week it doesn’t plan to shutter any facilities after securing a new funding stream. Criticizing past financing deals struck by Steward CEO Ralph de la Torre, House Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz sounded dubious as they discussed the bridge funding deal touted by a Steward executive to stave off the feared hospital closures for now. Steward operates nine hospitals in Massachusetts, serving tens of thousands of patients including many low-income residents who have public health insurance coverage. “We are not in a financial position to commit to financing anything to bail these people out,” said Mariano, a Democrat from Quincy, where Steward closed Quincy Medical Center in 2014 due to multi-million-dollar losses.

Gov. Healey Proposes Increasing Eligibility for Early Education and Child Care Assistance

More families in Gateway Cities, such as Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence, would become eligible for early education and child care assistance under a plan proposed Tuesday by Gov. Maura Healey. Healey yesterday said she plans to pursue about $113 million in new child care spending in her fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, which will also request another $475 million in grants to continue supporting early education providers. The amounts come despite her administration’s muted forecast for state finances, pitching the spending as an economic and competitive necessity. Altogether, the governor outlined more than half a billion dollars she wants to deploy to help more Bay State families access and afford child care, particularly in lower-income areas and communities of color. “We recognize that the cost of child care is high, is out of reach for so many.

Massachusetts Senate to Revisit Idea of Free Community College for All in Next Budget

The idea of free community college for everyone is coming back to Beacon Hill as the state Senate begins preparing its budget wish list. Senate President Karen E. Spilka said Wednesday. “Keep your eyes peeled,” for free community college funding in the Senate’s version of the budget that begins next July 1. Making community college free for every Massachusetts resident could cost the state about $170 million annually, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. The report was rolled out to reporters Wednesday alongside Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues and Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. Jo Comerford.

Steward Health Care to Close Stoughton Hospital; Says Move Helps ‘Safeguard’ Holy Family

The Dallas-based owner of Holy Family Hospital, with campuses in Methuen and Haverhill, plans to close its Stoughton rehabilitation hospital due to multi-million-dollar losses. Steward Health Care’s decision to close New England Sinai Acute Long-Term Care and Rehabilitation Hospital by early April, company officials say, will help and not harm its Merrimack Valley hospitals. “In fact, the difficult decision to close NESH was made specifically to safeguard the strength of operations of other Steward hospitals, including ours, and protect our standard of care,” Holy Family Hospital President Craig A. Jesiolowski told staff Wednesday by email. “Holy Family will continue to serve the families of the Merrimack Valley and we will continue to ensure we can meet the demands of the health care industry as it continues to change.”

Steward said in a press release this week, “Nearly 75% of Steward hospital patients are public pay (Medicare and Medicaid) which chronically underpay, sometimes at rates less than the cost of delivering services. As a result of these chronic low reimbursement rates, Steward has lost $22 million from NESH operations and cannot afford to keep the facility open.

DiZoglio Effort to Force Audit of Legislature Advances with Report of Collecting 100,000 Signatures

Chris Lisinski, State House News Service. State Auditor Diana DiZoglio and her hodgepodge of political allies took a major step toward asking voters for the authority to probe the legislature, announcing they gathered enough signatures to remain on track for a 2024 ballot question. The ballot question campaign backed by the Methuen Democrat said this week it collected signatures from more than 100,000 registered voters, significantly more than the 74,574 certified signatures required to be filed with local election officials by the end of the day Wednesday. “Our campaign resonates with the people of Massachusetts because they want our leaders to fix the numerous, simultaneous crises our Commonwealth is facing—whether that’s in housing, healthcare, transportation, mental health, addiction or others,” DiZoglio said in a statement circulated by the ballot question campaign. “Beacon Hill cannot continue its closed-door, opaque operations with so much at stake.