Hospital operator Steward Health Care files for bankruptcy protection

Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, one of the facilities owned and operated by Steward Health Care, which filed for bankruptcy protection May 6, 2024. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

BOSTON (AP) — Hospital operator Steward Health Care filed for bankruptcy protection early Monday morning, but pledged to maintain the eight hospitals it operates in Massachusetts.

In a press release, company officials said Steward took the step as a necessary measure to allow the company to continue to provide needed care to its patients.

“Steward does not expect any interruptions in its day-to-day operations, which will continue in the ordinary course throughout the Chapter 11 process,” the company said in a written statement. “Steward’s hospitals, medical centers and physician’s offices are open and continuing to serve patients and the broader community and our commitment to our employees will not change.”

The Dallas-based company operates more than 30 hospitals nationwide. Steward’s eight hospitals in Massachusetts including St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Carney Hospital, both in Boston. It filed for protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Steward’s troubles in Massachusetts have drawn the ire of top political figures including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, who have said the company’s previous private equity owners “sold (Steward) for parts” and “walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey said Monday that the state had been preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing and has established a call center for anyone with questions. She said despite the filing, Steward hospitals will remain open and patients should continue to keep their appointments.

Healey was particularly critical of Steward’s management of the hospitals, which she said led to the crisis.

“This situation stems from and is rooted in greed, mismanagement and lack of transparency on the part of Steward leadership in Dallas, Texas,” Healey said at a Monday press conference. “It’s a situation that should never have happened and we’ll be working together to take steps to make sure this never happens again.”

Steward said it is finalizing the terms of “debtor-in-possession financing” from its landlord Medical Properties Trust for initial funding of $75 million and “up to an additional $225 million upon the satisfaction of certain conditions.”

“Steward Health Care has done everything in its power to operate successfully in a highly challenging health care environment. Filing for Chapter 11 restructuring is in the best interests of our patients, physicians, employees, and communities at this time,” Dr. Ralph de la Torre, CEO of Steward said in a press release.

“In the past several months we have secured bridge financing and progressed the sale of our Stewardship Health business in order to help stabilize operations at all of our hospitals. With the delay in closing of the Stewardship Health transaction, Steward was forced to seek alternative methods of bridging its operations,” he added.

He also pointed to what he described as insufficient reimbursement by government payers as a result of decreasing reimbursement rates at a time of skyrocketing costs.

Torre said that by seeking bankruptcy protections, Steward will be better positioned to “responsibly transition ownership of its Massachusetts-based hospitals, keep all of its hospitals open to treat patients, and ensure the continued care and service of our patients and our communities.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell said Monday that the bankruptcy doesn’t allow Steward to “immediately shut its doors and leave town.” She said her office will advocate on behalf of patients and workers throughout the bankruptcy proceedings.

“I also want to make it crystal clear that I take very seriously any effort for this hospital system to make a profit to the detriment of patients, to strip-mine hospitals for their value,” Campbell said.

In March, the company announced it had struck a deal to sell its nationwide physician network to Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, as it works to stabilize its finances.

The move came as Healey said state monitors were keeping an eye on the health care facilities operated by Steward Health Care in Massachusetts, including hospitals in some of the state’s poorer communities.

Massachusetts Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka, said Monday that her “immediate concern remains the quality and continuity of care for the thousands of patients within the Steward system.”

Democratic House Speaker Ronald Mariano said the House will take up comprehensive legislation next week to address gaps in the state’s regulatory process exploited by Steward.