Judge Slaps Down Steward Healthcare Attempt to Slap Down Globe Story

We’re not exactly sure what big sister down the hall has written about Steward, but the healthcare company is plenty pissed about it. The regional healthcare giant unsuccessfully sued The Boston Globe in Suffolk Superior Court, trying to pre-emptively respond to the story before it is published this weekend.

We haven’t seen the story in question (and neither has Steward, to its consternation), but we know from a Globe article about the suit that reporter Jenna Russell has been working on the piece for the last 18 months, and that it follows the experience of a patient as he navigates through the mental healthcare system. The patient is currently listed as ‘John Doe’ in the lawsuit, but he was a willing participant with Russell and will be identified by name in the story.


What we have seen is the extent of Steward’s anxiety around the story in question.

According to the complaint:

“Denied the opportunity to respond to these scurrilous allegations and to provide the Globe will all of the relevant facts, Steward is faced with the certain and immediate specter of an irreparably damaging, one-sided attack on its delivery of healthcare to its patients.’’

Judge Jeffrey Locke was seemingly less moved. On Thursday afternoon, a day after the lawsuit was filed, Locke ruled that Steward did not have the right to see the story before it was published by the Globe, or demand any of the material Russell gathered while writing it.

Steward Healthcare was Caritas Christi before it was purchased by Cerberus Capital Management in 2010. The system operates 11 hospitals, including St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Carney Hospital in Dorchester.

Before Locke put on the brakes, Steward’s (now foiled) complaint had asked a number of things, all of which they wanted prior to this weekend’s planned publication.

What Steward wanted:

-Steward asked the court to grant permission to openly discuss John Doe’s medical records, which it said was needed to rebut the Globe’s story. (John Doe has refused to waive his privacy rights with regard to the records, which are protected by federal HIPAA regulations).

Why should the court intervene?

-Steward wanted to see the medical records the Globe used when writing the story. Their claim? That the Globe was writing the story based on incomplete records. In its complaint, Steward said it had no way to address the allegations made in the unpublished Globe story without discussing the patient’s medical records.


The suit also named John Doe himself as a party. Steward didn’t demand monetary damages from Doe, but it did serve him legal papers Wednesday evening, according to the Globe.

To reiterate: Steward served legal papers on a mentally ill person because they want to publicly discuss his medical records in order to rebut an as-yet unpublished story that they think will be damaging to the company.

Globe Editor Brian McGrory issued the following statement:

“Certainly, the Globe can and will defend itself in court against these specious claims and extraordinary demands,’’ said Globe editor Brian McGrory, in a statement today. “What we object to is Steward’s thinly-veiled intimidation tactic against a former patient. The fact that the company dispatched a constable, at dusk, to the house of a man with a history of mental illness is somewhere between appalling and unconscionable.

“We are very comfortable with our exhaustively researched story about one family’s frustrating journey through the mental health system in Massachusetts. This kind of work is why we exist as a newspaper.’’

The patient, about whose experience the Globe is writing, was pleased with the judge’s decision to side with the Globe and prevent the release of information he feared Steward would use toward “character assassination.’’

‘John Doe’ told the Globe: “I’m just glad that the judge said the hospital should follow federal law and that it’s not a free-for-all. That would have been crazy.’’

Herbert L. Holtz, a lawyer representing Steward, said the dispute “is not about the patient; it is about the journalistic integrity of the Globe’s reporting and the incomplete factual record on which it is proceeding.’’

In the next breath, though, Steward makes an argument that is entirely ‘about the patient’:

“Therefore, Steward served the former patient in fairness to provide him both notice of the matter, which the Globe initiated through its reporting, and to give him the chance, if he wanted it, to appear in court and be heard,’’

And so we have to ask: Was this about the patient, about journalistic integrity, or about a company’s last-ditch effort to stop a speeding train?

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