Daughters of Charity National Health System said last week it had signed an agreement to transfer sponsorship of Boston's Carney Hospital to Caritas Christi Health Care System, which is owned by the Boston Roman Catholic archdiocese.
Representatives of the two health systems said the decision would assure the future of Carney as a Catholic healthcare presence in Dorchester, Boston's largest neighborhood. With 1,800 employees, the hospital also is Dorchester's largest employer.
But the news has clouded the future of some existing arrangements between physicians on Carney's staff and Partners HealthCare System, a Boston-based regional network of hospitals and physicians that includes Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, two renowned tertiary teaching hospitals.
Caritas Christi includes 450-bed St. Elizabeth's Medical Center of Boston, a tertiary teaching hospital affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine.
Physicians on staff at Carney have longstanding referral relationships with Brig-ham and Women's, especially for heart patients initially diagnosed and treated at a cardiac catheterization laboratory at the Carney facility, said Paul Hattis, M.D., vice president of medical affairs.
"That relationship has worked very well, and it would be essential not to disrupt that," Hattis said. The situation could be jeopardized by making Carney part of a system that already includes St. Elizabeth's, he said, adding, "We don't view that as a strong alternative for our patients."
Nearly 30 primary-care physicians are employees of a Partners physician-network subsidiary or are close to signing looser affiliations with that network, called Partners Community HealthCare, said Ellen Zane, its chief executive officer.
"The primary-care physicians (aligned with Partners) represent a significant portion of the covered lives that flow through the institution," Hattis said, adding that any disruptions of their practice could adversely affect Carney.
Zane said Carney is not considered a feeder to Brigham and Women's or to Massachusetts General except for tertiary cases. "We want routine care to stay local," she said.
But Brigham and Women's also has physician residents at Carney along with the cardiac-care program, arrangements that may have to be unwound as a result of the change of ownership. "It all will be up for serious discussion," Zane said.
Michael Collins, M.D., president and CEO of Caritas Christi, met last week with physician leaders at Carney, said spokesman Richard Doherty, "and reiterated that this is not about changing referral patterns, this is about preserving Catholic healthcare in Dorchester at Carney Hospital."
It was a decision by the head of the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law, that prompted the Daughters of Charity to put Carney up for sale last June.
Law ruled against an impending merger of Carney with Quincy (Mass.) Hospital because the result would make Carney a partner to a municipal facility that legally had to provide abortions (June 10, p. 16).
Law opposed a proposed affiliation between Carney and Brigham and Women's in 1995 for the same reason.