MA governor orders Steward Health Care to disclose withheld financial documents, says it must exit state 'as soon as possible'

After weeks of public and policymaker scrutiny, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey has told Steward Health Care CEO Ralph de la Torre, M.D., that his floundering system should begin handing off its licensed healthcare facilities to new operators “as soon as possible” and threatened to redirect patients from those where staffing and supply levels are insufficient.

In a Tuesday letter from the governor’s office, Healey also gave the for-profit a three-day deadline to disclose system-level audited financial documents she said the company has “refused” to provide, despite requirements under Massachusetts law and a court order to comply.

“By repeatedly refusing to disclose this information, you have deprived government officials and the communities you serve a clear window into Steward's financial stability and an opportunity to take steps to protect access to care,” she wrote in the letter, on which Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Joshua S. Levy and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell were copied.

Steward Health Care has spent the past couple of months in Massachusetts' and other states’ crosshairs over roughly $50 million of debt it owes to its landlord, over a dozen lawsuits from vendors and employees related to unpaid invoices, facility closure announcements, “shoestring” operations and other issues stemming from its apparent dire finances. Beyond government officials’ concerns that any abrupt closures would jeopardize access to inpatient care, recent articles have juxtaposed the organization’s critical state with the multi-million-dollar yachts owned by de la Torre, the system’s physician executive.

In Tuesday’s letter, Healey said her administration “has been actively engaged” with Steward to maintain access to care while Steward sorts out its financials. She also noted that the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “have been onsite in all of your hospitals in response to patient safety events.”

Still, she wrote that de la Torre and his team “have not been forthcoming, truthful or responsive about what’s happening with your financial status, operating plans, and contingency strategies. Navigating this acute crisis, which is of your making, without complete transparency and real-time information, harms our ability to protect patients, our workforce and our state.”

Should Steward be “truly committed” to its partnership with the state and avoiding care disruptions, Healey said the system “must” ensure safe staffing and appropriate supply levels at each of its locations, or else the state “will take all actions necessary … to protect patients, including freezing admissions, closing beds, canceling procedures and transferring patients to other hospitals."

Healey also told Steward to fully cooperate with expanded DPH monitoring that is rolling out across all of the organization’s Massachusetts hospitals, and gave until the end of Friday to produce financial documents.

“The time has come to move past our many months of discussions and begin executing a safe, orderly transition of your seven licensed facilities in Massachusetts to new operators as soon as possible,” she wrote. “This begins with your commitment to fully disclose the financial information we have requested.”

Steward Health Care runs 33 hospitals in eight states and describes itself as the country’s “largest private, physician-led healthcare network.” It has previously said that it has a financing deal in place that lawmakers told press would keep some, but not all, of its nine Massachusetts hospitals running.

Outside of the Bay State, the company has shared plans to shut down units in Florida and its home state of Texas. In Utah, it has also been hit with lawsuits reportedly alleging that pulled funds from five hospitals it sold to last year to CommonSpirit Health to pay its debts in other states.