Morton Hospital sale receives warm support at public hearing
Taunton Gazette photo by CASEY NILSSON
State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell speaks to a crowd at the Morton Hospital public hearing Thursday night. On her right sits Mass. Department of Public Health's Sherman Lohnes, Assistant Attorney General Jed Nosel and Mass. Department of Public Health's Bernard Plovnick.
By Casey Nilsson
Posted Jun 30, 2011 @ 11:56 PM
The acquisition of Morton Hospital and Medical Center by Steward Health Care System received overwhelming support from attendees at a public hearing Thursday night.
"I’m so enthusiastic about this acquisition," Mayor Charles Crowley told hundreds of people seated in the Friedman Middle School auditorium. "We now have the opportunity to provide the quality of care our citizens so richly deserve."
Along with Crowley, state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, state Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, and members of the Taunton City Council all attended Thursday’s hearing in support of the merger.
"I would defend this on the last breath of my life," City Councilor Daniel Barbour said. "Morton, by far and large, has the best staff. I would defy anyone to say there are better out there. Only greater things can come to a great hospital."
In late March, Morton Hospital, a non-profit, signed a sales agreement with for-profit Steward Health Care. Steward currently owns eight area hospitals.
Before the deal is finalized, the change of status must be officially approved by the Mass. Department of Public Health, Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office and the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The first step in the process was Thursday’s public hearing, to gain the "views, opinions and concerns about the transaction" from the general public, said Jed Nosel, Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Business and Labor Bureau.
Morton Hospital CEO Maureen Bryant was the first to speak in favor of the merger. Bryant said the deal would eliminate $30 million in pension liability and would repay $28 million in long-term hospital debt.
"It would remove financial constraints that have impacted the hospital for so long," Bryant said.
Bryant said the acquisition would represent a 10-year commitment of at least $110 million for hospital upgrades, $85 million of which would be spent in the first five years of the deal.
A long list of speakers then flocked to the podium in support of Bryant and the merger.
"I believe joining with Steward would only result in a positive outcome for the community," Morton radiologist Cindy Mason said.
Marge Largey, a retired Morton Trustee of 20 years, said the acquisition would be "an answer to a prayer."
Current Trustee Diane Cote, who was witness to the unanimous Board of Trustees vote in support of the merge, said the deal would allow for much needed hospital expansion.
"We could enhance the departments we have," Cote said. "We wouldn’t have to send people off to Boston or Providence."
Proceed with caution
Unlike the Morton Board of Trustees’ vote, however, the deal with Steward was not unanimously supported Thursday night.
Four members of the Mass. Nurses Association (MNA) cited Steward’s failure to sign the MNA "multi-employer defined pension plan" nine months after closing acquisition deals with the hospitals.
"I have here in my hand hundreds of signed petitions," said Betsy Prescott, chair of the local MNA bargaining unit at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston.
Prescott and the MNA representatives warned supporters of the Morton acquisition to take "a careful look at the transaction to make sure all commitments are upheld."
After the hearing
A substantial 58 opinions were heard Thursday night, however members of the public who did not get a chance to speak may still file comments regarding the acquisition by e-mailing the Attorney General’s Office at email@example.com or mailing a letter to Nonprofit Organizations/Public Charities Division, Attn: Morton Hospital Transaction Review, One Ashburton Place, Boston.
In addition to all input from the public, Nosel said the Attorney General’s Office will consider several factors when making the final decision, including whether the proposed transaction complies with applicable general non-profit and charities law.
The AG’s Office will also consider whether due care was followed by Morton Hospital, conflict of interest was avoided by Morton at all phases of decision making, fair value will be received for Morton’s assets and the proposed transaction is in the public’s best interest.
Contact Casey Nilsson at firstname.lastname@example.org.