Sen. Kane Slams Gov. Malloy’s “Strange” Veto of Waterbury Hospital Bill

July 12, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

Hospital deal in jeopardy
Malloy veto of bill on hiring doctors may sink joint venture


With a stroke of his pen Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy placed in jeopardy the for-profit joint venture proposed by Waterbury Hospital and Vanguard Health Systems Inc.

Just a few days after the state Attorney General’s Office and the state Office of Health Care Access declared the application for the joint venture complete, Malloy vetoed a bill intended to help the for-profit venture retain and hire physicians after it is formed.

Union leaders hailed the veto, while some members of the Greater Waterbury legislative delegation accused the governor of “caving” to union pressure and backing out of a deal his office had helped to negotiate.

Waterbury Hospital issued a four-word statement. “We are very disappointed,” said Matthew Burgard, the hospital’s spokesman. He said the hospital would not comment further.

Travis Messina, a vice president with Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanguard, said his organization also would not comment.

Rep. Victor Cuevas, D-75th District, said he supports Malloy’s decision, but conceded the legislation was important to allow the joint venture to occur.

“It allows for-profit hospitals to hire doctors through medical foundations,” something nonprofit hospitals already do, Cuevas said. The bill also would have enabled Waterbury Hospital to retain its physicians if it became a for-profit hospital, he said.

“The legislation would have allowed a for-profit hospital to keep current doctors that were hired through medical foundations at the same pay,” Cuevas said. “It was basically a condition Vanguard attorneys wanted.”

Senate Bill 992, “An Act Concerning Members of a Medical Foundation,” was raised in the final hours of the legislature’s session June 5. Union leaders, though, convinced Democratic leaders in the Senate to hold up the bill, raising questions about protecting workers’ rights. It ultimately passed by 33-2 vote.

Malloy did not raise the issue of workers’ rights in the explanation accompanying his veto. Instead, he said he was concerned that the bill “carves out an exception to existing law for the benefit of specific for-profit entities.” He said that requires further consideration by the legislature to “determine whether such exceptions are appropriate and, if so, whether existing law should be amended on a broader basis.”

MALLOY SAID THE LEGISLATURE also needs to determine whether current law provides adequate safeguards “against any perceived or actual threat to the independence of medical decisions made by providers employed by for-profit entities.”

A spokeswoman for the governor said his veto message was the only comment his office would have on subject. A story published by The Connecticut Mirror on its website Thursday, however, quoted Mark Ojakian, the governor’s chief of staff, saying the governor now has too many questions about the bill and the joint venture.

“It is incumbent upon us to make sure what kinds of arrangements are going to exist with for-profit hospitals,” Ojakian told the Mirror. “What is the responsibility to the community? What is the responsibility to the workers? What is the responsibility it has to the state?”

Ojakian told the Mirror that the legislation was further complicated when it was announced late last month that Vanguard is being acquired by Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Dallas in a $1.8 billion deal.

Republican members of the Greater Waterbury delegation were angered by the veto.

“What strikes me funny is, the governor’s people were in the room when this bill was being negotiated,” said Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown. “They were part of the crafting of the bill. For him to veto this is really strange.”

Rep. Sean J. Williams, R-Watertown, said he was “livid,” called the veto “disgraceful” and said Malloy had bowed to union pressure.

“For the simple sake of pleasing big labor special interests, the governor has pulled the rug out from under a lot of people who counted on this legislation to strengthen a hospital that’s so crucial to the economic vitality of an entire region,” Williams said.

Asked whether the veto would kill the joint venture, Williams said it was possible.

“Both the hospital and Vanguard came to the Greater Waterbury delegation in the last 48 hours of the session and said, ‘We need this in order to execute this deal,'” he said.

Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers union issued a statement praising the veto and slamming Vanguard.

“Our contract is up in September, and we’ve already been on the front lines fighting the ruthless practices and inhumane tactics of the for-profits,” Barbara Simonetta, president of CT Health Care Associates/AFSCME, which represents 400 nurses at Waterbury Hospital, states in the release. “Vanguard has been out for months to kill the nurses’ long-standing pensions, among other outrageous actions, as a precondition for merging with Waterbury Hospital.”

Simonetta said the veto will give the legislature “the opportunity to enact essential worker and community protections.”

She added, “The governor sent a message that allowing for-profits in Connecticut requires careful consideration and broad community input. We look forward to working with the governor to ensure that any change of this magnitude — should for-profits even be allowed to do business in our state — has the scrutiny and regulation needed to protect Connecticut residents.”

The AFSCME release also claims that, in addition to its proposed acquisition of Bristol Hospital, Vanguard is looking at deals with Manchester and Rockville hospitals, and “has also been in discussions to partner with Yale University.”

Yale University did not respond to a request for comment.