The news from the Caritas Christi health system ends more than a year of uncertainty about the future of Carney hospital.
Ralph de la Torre knew how to win this crowd over.
Nearly 100 Dorchester residents and activists who gathered in a union hall off Adams Street on Thursday night burst into applause, drowning out Caritas Christi Health Care’s new CEO before he could finish the sentence: “Carney will stay as an acute care hospital.”
Those magic words ended more than a year of uncertainty about the future of Caritas Carney Hospital. De la Torre, who started as the Caritas hospital system’s chief executive earlier this spring, offered a key pledge from Carney’s parent organization that the Dorchester institution wouldn’t close its doors or be converted into a less-intensive health care facility.
The meeting in Dorchester of the Coalition to Strengthen Carney Hospital coincided with the release of a long-awaited report from Wellspring Partners, a consultant hired by Caritas Christi to assess Carney’s future. The Wellspring report offers a set of largely positive critiques aimed at keeping Carney viable as an acute care hospital.
The neighborhood coalition came together following the news last year that the Archdiocese of Boston was pursuing a deal that would transfer the Caritas Christi system to Ascension Health of St. Louis. That deal fell apart later in the year.
The coalition stepped up its efforts this spring after Attorney General Martha Coakley released her own consultant’s report that recommended the possibility that Carney be turned into a behavioral health services facility. The report cited a steady decline in the hospital’s market share in recent years as a reason for the conversion.
De la Torre made it clear at Thursday night’s meeting that such a change wasn’t going to happen.
“It’s going to remain the pride of this community and the pride of Caritas,” de la Torre said.
However, de la Torre said much work still needs to be done to improve Carney and to keep it viable. He said the operating rooms and patient rooms need to be modernized, and Caritas Christi needs to improve the physician compensation system to attract and retain more doctors.
“Keeping it open is not enough,” de la Torre said. “We have to ... rebuild Carney.”
De la Torre also said there are no plans for additional layoffs at the hospital. About 50 people lost their jobs during a round of staff cuts in March. With the equivalent of 860 full-time positions remaining at the nearly 160-bed hospital, it is still one of the largest employers in Dorchester.
De la Torre said he aims to add more jobs at the hospital in the future. Caritas Christi officials also said they’re considering an investment of up to $30 million for infrastructure improvements at the hospital over the next five years.
Maureen Feeney, the president of Boston’s city council, said the hospital provides an important hub of activity for Dorchester, as well as outreach to the different immigrant groups who live nearby.
“It’s not just a hospital,” Feeney said before Thursday’s meeting. “It’s really the heart and soul of the community of Dorchester.”
Carney Hospital also draws a number of patients from Mattapan, Quincy and, to a lesser extent, several other South Shore communities, according to the Wellspring report.
Dan Driscoll, CEO of Harbor Health Services Inc. in Dorchester and one of the community organizers leading the charge to save Carney, urged supporters to sign a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick to ask for a $4.5 million grant for Carney from a state fund for community health providers. The hospital, Driscoll said, received $4 million from the fund last year.
Driscoll, whose organization’s patients typically occupy four or five beds each day at Carney, said he’s relieved that the community’s focus will turn to how to improve Carney from the earlier mission of ensuring it simply stays open as an acute care hospital.
“It’s not a question of, ‘Will it live or die?’ anymore,” Driscoll said.
Jon Chesto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.