CARNEY HOSPITAL has been a bedrock institution in the southern reaches of Boston since 1863. It is now in deep trouble. To preserve its mission to care for the diverse population of Dorchester, its home since 1953, the owners should be receptive to major changes - even if they involve affiliation with another hospital network.
The Daughters of Charity operated the hospital until 1996. When the nuns decided to give up management, Cardinal Bernard Law vetoed a plan to have the hospital affiliate with the Partners network in 1994, and he put it in the archdiocesan Caritas Christi hospital system two years later. But it has not been a good fit, and an internal memo uncovered recently by the Globe's Jeffrey Krasner found that the hospital was losing money, despite $4 million in state aid and a $6.7 million special subsidy from other Caritas hospitals in the year that ended Sept. 30.
Dr. John D. Chessare, interim CEO of Caritas, said this week that the system is implementing a three-year recovery plan for Carney, which initially shows signs of success. Yet the Caritas system as a whole is not in the best shape. Attorney General Martha Coakley is monitoring it closely in her capacity as watchdog over the state's nonprofit institutions. Caritas can't let Carney drag it down, nor should it deprive Dorchester of the 197 beds and other care available at the hospital.
Since Law muscled Carney into the Caritas system, Quincy Hospital nearby has linked up with Boston Medical Center and Milton Hospital has done the same with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Caritas executives blame recent trouble on changes in state reimbursement rules, but the hospital business in the Boston area is brutally competitive for many reasons. Carney has to react nimbly to survive.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley is not as enamored of hospital bricks and mortar as Law, his predecessor as archbishop, and has twice tried to transfer the Caritas chain to national Catholic health systems. O'Malley and Caritas's leadership need to assess whether they have the long-term capacity to save Carney.
Mayor Menino, worried that Caritas will close abruptly, is convening a group of healthcare analysts to devise a plan to save the hospital. The Dorchester legislative delegation and City Council President Maureen Feeney are trying to find another hospital chain to take it over. BI-Deaconess CEO Paul Levy suggests mischievously that his labor nemesis, the Service Employees International Union, might assume control.
Levy's scheme is a little too creative, but the elected officials are right that Carney needs a fresh approach to maintain its status as an important healthcare provider. Cardinal Law's intervention 11 years ago has hobbled Carney ever since. It needs the freedom to seek a new destiny.