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Officials meeting to save Carney

Caritas Carney Hospital would have been insolvent without cash from other hospitals. Caritas Carney Hospital would have been insolvent without cash from other hospitals. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file 2006)

Boston City Council President Maureen Feeney is expected to meet today with Senate President Therese Murray, and tomorrow will convene a larger group of elected officials to explore ways to shore up the Archdiocese of Boston's Caritas Carney Hospital, the 144-year-old Dorchester institution facing enormous financial pressures.

Tomorrow's meeting will include US Representative Michael E. Capuano, Democrat of Somerville, and Dr. Daniel H. O'Leary, Carney's president, as well as some Massachusetts legislators.

The Globe reported yesterday that Carney Hospital's performance in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 was $7 million worse than anticipated, and that an internal 2008 budget report said the hospital would be "insolvent" if it hadn't received $6.7 million in cash from other hospitals in the Catholic church's Caritas Christi Health System.

Caritas Christi officials want the hospital to remain open as an acute care facility, but they are also exploring a possible sale, closing, or restructuring.

Elected officials, led by Feeney, say they have known for months that Carney Hospital is financially weak, and have been working quietly prior to the latest revelations.

"This is not pushing the panic button," said Justin Holmes, a spokesman for Feeney. "This is part of ongoing conversations among local, federal, and state leaders to bring resources to bear to help Carney hospital."

Holmes added, "Many of these officials have lined up in support of Carney in the past."

State Senator Jack Hart, Democrat of Boston, said, "We plan to look at the numbers and figure out a plan to help Carney. We will be asking for a meeting with people at the highest levels of the Caritas system."

Before it joined the Caritas Christi chain in 1997, Carney Hospital had been run by the Daughters of Charity, an international Catholic group with a centuries-old mission of providing healthcare to the poor.

But while some of Caritas Christi's six hospitals have prospered, the chain is financially weak. In the just-ended fiscal year, it will earn about $1.5 million, said Bob Guyon, chief financial officer. But, he added, those results were affected by a one-time $9.5 million accounting misstatement by its physicians group, a one-time event, said Guyon. He predicted the chain would earn about $18 million in the next fiscal year.

This year, the archdiocese decided to exit the healthcare business, and has twice negotiated with other Catholic healthcare chains to have them take over the hospitals and assume the chain's $275 million in debt. Those talks ended without an agreement.

Now the archdiocese says it will find a new chief executive for the chain and try to improve results on its own.

"I think the Caritas system needs to put more money into Carney Hospital," said state Representative Martin Walsh, Democrat of Dorchester. "Some parts of the hospital are working and some aren't."

Walsh said he has explored opening substance abuse programs at the hospital. He also noted that Carney has faced financial challenges before. "I've been working on this for over 10 years," he said.

Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, Democrat of Dorchester, said she has been working with other officials on helping Carney for more than five months.

"There are many supporters of Carney from outside the city," she said. "This is not a Dorchester thing. We're working hard to make sure they stay open."

Jeffrey Krasner can be reached at krasner@globe.com.

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