From the Rep-Am: State’s operating climate for hospitals criticized

January 26, 2017

Saint Mary’s Hospital CEO Chad Wable on Wednesday declared Connecticut the worst state to operate a hospital in the country.

Wable delivered his indictment in opening remarks to the Waterbury Regional Chamber’s annual legislative breakfast.

The last four years have been the most challenging times in the history of hospitals in Connecticut, Wable said.

“Now that I’m part of 92 hospitals across the country, and I get a window into all of them, I will tell you Connecticut is probably the most difficult state to operate a hospital in the country,” he said.

Saint Mary’s Hospital is owned by Michigan-based Trinity Health, a nonprofit Catholic owner of 93 hospitals in 22 states. It is part of its Trinity Health-New England group along with Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford and Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

After the breakfast ended, Rep. Jeffery J. Berger said Wable’s depiction of Connecticut was overly bleak.

“I thought it was somewhat draconian in my assessment. I understand they went through very difficult times, both Saint Mary’s and Waterbury Hospital, in their expansion and buyouts, but the truth of the matter is that the hospitals are in a better position now they have ever been,” he said.

Saint Mary’s Hospital recorded a $21.2 million profit for the 2015 fiscal year, while Waterbury Hospital posted a $9.6 million loss, according to the latest official figures. Wable makes about
Overall, 17 of the state’s 28 hospitals had positive margins, down from 24 in 2014.

“State government and families across Connecticut have had to find efficiencies to control costs in this new economic reality, as have our hospitals had to do as well,” said Kelly Donnelly, communications director for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “With that said, even during this time, on the whole, Connecticut hospitals have done fairly well.”

State regulators approved Trinity Health’s acquisition of Saint Mary’s Hospital last year, but Wable cited other state actions that he charged are hurting hospitals.

He singled out the so-called hospital provider tax that was sold in 2011 as means of raising more federal funding for hospitals, but now costs hospitals hundreds of millions.
Federal law allows the state to levy a hospital user fee on net patient revenue of up to 6 percent. The tax is now budgeted to raise $701.5 million this year.

The Connecticut Hospital Association and 20 hospitals filed suit in Superior Court last year to challenge the hospital tax. Saint Mary’s Hospital and Waterbury Hospital are parties.

The Waterbury Regional Chamber listed the repeal of the hospital tax in a legislative agenda that was unveiled at Wednesday’s breakfast. Several lawmakers in attendance expressed general support.
“A phase out is obviously probably the only realistic way to talk about this,” Sen. Joan V. Hartley, D-15th District, said Through Wednesday, various legislators had submitted 19 repeal bills and counting.
First-term Rep. Stephanie Cummings, R-74th District, expressed sympathy for the plight of hospitals.

“The state has been squeezing our hospitals and returning less and less of the tax paid while also increasing the regulations for hospitals to merger,” Cummings said.
Sen. Joseph C. Markley, R-16th District, blamed many of the hospital industry’s gripes on Malloy.

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“This hospitals situation was 100 percent Dan Malloy. I don’t know what he had in his heart against the hospitals, but he insisted on going after them and going after them repeatedly,” Markley said.
Malloy clashed with the hospital industry over state payments, the hospital tax, hospital profits and executive compensation throughout much of 2015 into 2016.

“If you want to help hospitals, I think the first thing we have to do is hope that he is out of the office soon,” Markley said.