Financially strapped operator of Mass. hospitals strikes potential deal with insurance company

STOUGHTON, Mass. — Steward Health Care may have found a way to fix its financial problems.

The Massachusetts hospital operator has struck a deal to sell its physician network to insurance company Optum. But the potential deal won’t be enough to save one local facility.

New England Sinai Hospital is set to close its doors for good next Tuesday — that isn’t changing with this potential new deal.

While the proposal between Steward Health Care and Optum is in the works, it still needs all kinds of approval.

Steward operates nine healthcare facilities across Massachusetts.

Boston 25 News has been reporting for months now how the company says it doesn’t have the money to keep them open, even after receiving $675 million in COVID-19 relief money. Steward also announced it found some bridge financing last month, but didn’t reveal too many details.

This proposed sale of a doctors’ group called Stewardship Health to Optum could now help shore up its finances. A commission will have 30 days to assess and review the transaction.

The proposed deal will be closely scrutinized here in Massachusetts, where some political leaders, including Gov. Maura Healey, have accused Steward of prioritizing shareholders over public health.

Sen. Ed Markey released a statement saying in part, “Optum must demonstrate that it can meet the even greater responsibility to preserve and protect health care access in the commonwealth, and I hope they will live up to that responsibility by controlling costs and putting patients and providers first.”

Markey added he is holding a congressional hearing in Boston next week. He invited Steward’s CEO to testify.

“Hospitals and the healthcare system are not like any other part of our economy,” Markey said. “These are not widget makers. Healthcare is at the center of the well-being of every family in the Commonwealth and across the country.”

Next week, Markey — along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren — will hold a hearing looking into how Steward, once looked at as a savior of the nine Massachusetts hospitals it took over some 15 years ago, wound up unable to save itself. That hearing will take place on April 3, one day after the closure of Steward’s New England Sinai Hospital in Stoughton.

“You know, Steward did this when they first came into being... and we didn’t ask enough questions,” said Ellen MacInnis, a nurse at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital — owned by Steward — and a member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “So lesson learned... we need to ask a lot more questions now.”

Markey said before Steward is allowed to sell off its assets, “guardrails” need to be in place to ensure patients are put before profits.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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