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Amid concerns, Coakley seeks 'road map' for Caritas Christi

With concerns mounting about the viability of Caritas Carney Hospital and Caritas Christi Health Care System, Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday said she has hired a healthcare consultant to review the entire chain and draw a "road map" for its future.

Coakley said Health Strategies & Solutions Inc., a Philadelphia firm, will study the financial health of the Archdiocese of Boston's six-hospital system, which earned a scant $1.5 million profit in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 despite receiving substantial government subsidies.

"Caritas Christi plays a crucial role in providing healthcare for the residents of eastern Massachusetts," Coakley said in a statement. "It is our hope and expectation that this review will help develop a road map with which our office, the archdiocese, Caritas management, the healthcare community, and the communities that Caritas serves may ensure that the healthcare mission is preserved and strengthened."

Dr. John Chessare, interim chief executive of Caritas Christi, said it has worked with the attorney general's office "on a regular basis."

"We look forward to continuing to work with them," he said in a statement.

Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said Coakley's office has had ongoing concerns about the financial health of Caritas Christi.

Coakley's office, through Public Charities Division, is responsible for overseeing the public's interest in nonprofit hospitals.

In an unusual move, the state's three largest private insurance companies have agreed to pay for the consultant's study. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Tufts Health Plan will split the as-yet-undetermined fee for Health Strategies & Solutions. The firm has long consulted to the attorney general's office, providing analysis of hospital finances.

The Boston Globe reported last week that Carney Hospital in Dorchester will lose about $2 million in the just-ended fiscal year, even though it received a $4 million state subsidy and a $6.7 million cash infusion from other Caritas Christi hospitals. Without that cash, the Carney would be "insolvent," according to an internal finance document obtained by the Globe.

Carney has also stretched its cash by putting off payments to the Caritas Christi system for such group purchases as employees' health insurance, according to Nancy Hoffmann, vice president of finance for Carney Hospital. Those benefits are not endangered in any way, she said, and no private vendors have been saddled with long waits for payments. In the three months ended March 31, Carney's average payment - including to Caritas - stretched out more than three months.

Action to save Carney accelerated in recent days. First, a group including Massachusetts congressmen, state legislators, and City Council president Maureen Feeney met to discuss strategies for the hospital, which serves a largely lower-income and immigrant community in lower Dorchester. They have not yet met with any officials from the hospital or Caritas Christi.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he is consulting with healthcare specialists before formulating a plan for Carney, which could be ready as soon as next week. Caritas officials also met with Coakley's office Wednesday.

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

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HOSPITAL REPORT Read previous Globe coverage of the troubled Caritas Christi hospital chain at boston.com/business.

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