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HOSPITAL SHOWDOWN | Globe Editorial

How to be Steward’s steward

September 6, 2011

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THE MASSACHUSETTS Nurses Association is asking for Attorney General Martha Coakley’s intercession in the acquisition by for-profit Steward Health Care of not-for-profit - and now bankrupt - Quincy Medical Center. The nurses’ union accuses Steward of trying to change a pension plan that nurses at four other hospitals now owned by Steward had negotiated with Caritas Christi Health Care, their previous owner. At an Aug. 9 hearing, the union asked Coakley to delay public approval of Steward’s purchase of Quincy Medical Center and Morton Hospital in Taunton until its dispute with Steward is settled.

These are separate matters, and Coakley should treat them that way. She should assess Steward’s takeovers of Quincy and Morton on merits - and not delay either strictly on the basis of the union’s request.

However, there is a common thread to these disputes. It is whether Steward can be relied on to keep the promises it makes as it gobbles up formerly not-for-profit institutions. The nurses’ union claims Steward isn’t living up to the commitments it made when it acquired Caritas; Steward says the union is misrepresenting - or simply misunderstood - the owners’ intentions. Either way, Coakley is in a good position to bring clarity to the dispute, having extracted the promises from Steward while she was reviewing its purchase of the Caritas system.

The attorney general shouldn’t serve as referee of a private-sector labor dispute. But having given her approval to the Caritas deal on the basis of Steward’s assurances, Coakley should do what she can to make sure they are carried out appropriately.