Legislators React to Sale of Stewardship Health, Whose Parent Company Operates Norwood Hospital


Source: Press Release of Norwood Hospital, June 24, 2022. Pictured is an architectural rendering of Steward Health Care's vision in 2021 for a new Norwood Hospital, which is under construction.

Following the news on March 26, 2024 that Stewardship Health - the physician group of parent company Steward Health Care which is rebuilding Norwood Hospital - is being purchased by Minnesota-based Optum Financial (a division of UnitedHealth Group), Senator Edward J. Markey and Congressman Jake Auchincloss voiced criticism of the business practices that led to this moment.

Senator Markey issued a statement, saying, “After Steward recklessly took on massive debt that is continuing to [ ]  put hospitals in Massachusetts and across the country into financial crisis, the Massachusetts health care system must move away from Steward’s financial insecurity. With this announcement, 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."

Senator Markey held a Congressional hearing in Boston on March 27th, about the impact of profit-driven forces on access to health care. He invited Ralph de la Torre, the chief executive officer of Steward to testify.

“For-profit companies that elect to participate in the health care system must understand that their decisions have direct impacts on communities, and they must and will be held accountable," said Senator Markey.

Congressman Auchincloss released the following statement on Wednesday, March 27th: "[T}he prospect of UnitedHealth Group purchasing Stewardship Health is alarming. UnitedHealth, a Fortune 5 leviathan already under federal antitrust investigation, has spent five decades corporatizing healthcare to the detriment of patients and physicians. My constituents in southeastern Massachusetts should not be next in line.”

Steward Health Care operates nine health care facilities across Massachusetts, and began rebuilding Norwood Hospital in 2022 after the hospital suffered catastrophic flooding and storm damage. Steward Health Care is currently facing significant financial insecurity as a result of previously accumulated debt, posing uncertainty in health care for the patients it serves.

According to Senator Markey, Steward’s inability to pay its debt has resulted in financial instability among several of the hospitals it owns in Massachusetts, creating a risk to patients and health providers. Despite that debt, however, the private equity company that previously owned Steward Health Care, Cerberus Capital Management, generated $800 million in profit from Steward. 

"The corporatization and commodification of health care has left a trail of broken promises to both communities and regulatory agencies. It has meant less staff to deliver care, the lack of supplies and resources for those delivering care, and the loss of desperately needed beds and services, often those that serve the most vulnerable patients,"  said Ellen MacInnis, RN, who is a nurse at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center and member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association Board. "We believe the health of residents is not a commodity, and as such, there is no place for private equity and for-profit providers in our state or the nation,” she said.

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