Steward Health Care, a private hospital system operating in Massachusetts and reportedly millions of dollars in debt, is attempting to sell four of its hospitals in the state as soon as possible, according to U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch. Beset by financial woes, the company is scrambling to offload four of its facilities – sparking community panic, political uproar, and uncertainty for staff and patients.
The news broke last week, with Congressman Stephen Lynch revealing Steward’s urgent bid to sell four hospitals,
The situation has worsened for Steward in recent months. Several surgeries have been canceled as the hospital system struggles to pay vendors and staff. In April, Steward furloughed 10% of its staff in Massachusetts, citing low patient volume.
This bombshell followed reports of canceled surgeries, equipment shortages, and mounting debt.
According to Lynch, Steward aims to fully exit the Massachusetts healthcare market. “Steward is looking to sell all of their Massachusetts hospitals,” Lynch said in an interview. “They want out of the Massachusetts market completely.”
On December 18, 2023, the U.S Attorney Office filed a complaint accusing them of defrauding the Medicare program. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the complaint against Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Steward Medical Group, and Steward Health Care System itself, accusing them of violating the Physician Self-Referral Law and submitting false claims for millions of dollars.
The core of the lawsuit revolves around the Stark Law, also known as the Physician Self-Referral Law. This law prohibits healthcare providers from referring patients to services in which they have a financial stake. The government alleges that Steward violated this law by improperly linking a lead cardiologist’s bonus payments to the number of cardiac surgeries he referred to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center. This scheme, the complaint claims, led to unnecessary surgeries and inflated Medicare bills.
If Steward successfully sells the four hospitals, thousands of patients may need to find new facilities and providers. This could significantly disrupt care for already vulnerable populations. The communities served by these hospitals have higher rates of poverty, chronic disease, and elderly residents compared to state averages.
Governor Maura Healey has pledged to protect patients and jobs, expressing concern about the suddenness of Steward’s move. In a statement to CBS, Healy stated, “Our goal is going to be to make sure that patients are protected, that jobs are protected and that the healthcare system in Massachusetts in stabilized.”
The potential hospital sales and Steward’s desire to leave Massachusetts altogether signals the worsening financial condition of the hospital system. Unpaid bills, understaffing, and poor management have characterized Steward’s time operating in Massachusetts, according to reports. The sale of four hospitals could provide financial relief but leave many patients with uncertainty about where they will receive care.