When push came to shove Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sided with labor unions when he vetoed a bill Thursday that would have made it easier for Vanguard, a for-profit company, to acquire Waterbury Hospital.
Representatives of the labor unions, Waterbury lawmakers, and lobbyists for the hospital clashed in the final hours of the legislative session in June when it looked like the bill wasn’t going to pass. Tempers flared and words were exchanged, but in the end the language giving for-profit companies a seat on a medical foundation passed.
Essentially, the bill would have helped create a governance structure that would have allowed Vanguard to purchase physician practices through a medical foundation without violating federal law. The bill would have given the for-profit two seats on the foundation’s board of directors.
However, Malloy wasn’t convinced that the change was necessary.
In his five sentence veto message, Malloy called for the concept to receive further scrutiny.
“As this bill carves out an exception to existing law for the benefit of specific for-profit entities, further consideration is warranted to determine whether such exceptions are appropriate and, if so, whether existing law should be amended on a broader basis,” he wrote. “Further consideration is also warranted to determine whether current law provides adequate safeguards to guard against any perceived or actual threat to the independence of medical decisions made by providers employed by for-profit entities.”
Patrick McCabe, a lobbyist who represents Vanguard, the Tennessee company interested in purchasing the financially struggling Waterbury Hospital, declined comment Friday.
Waterbury Hospital was not immediately available for comment and no one seems to know the fate of the hospital purchase following the veto.
Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said Malloy’s veto “puts in jeopardy a joint venture between Waterbury Hospital and Vanguard Health Systems Inc.”
A member of the Waterbury delegation negotiating the bill, Williams said it’s clear that pressure from union leaders rather than doing what’s right for health care in the Waterbury region is what drove Malloy’s veto decision.
Paul Filson, the political director of the Service Employees International Union who was involved in negotiations June 5, said his union “didn’t necessarily ask for a veto.”
“We asked him to take a look at this whole for-profit purchase,” Filson said Friday.
He said in the waning hours of the legislative session there was no time left to scrutinize the legislation, much less debate it. “We want to make sure that if the hospital is taken over by a for-profit company that there are guarantees for our workers and our community,” Filson said.
Complicating matters further, Vanguard will be taken over by the end of the year by Tenet Corporation.
AFSCME Council 4 which represents nurses and other healthcare workers at Waterbury Hospital, said the company also had plans to take over Bristol Hospital and potentially Manchester and Rockville Hospitals.
“Vanguard has also been in discussions to partner with Yale University,” an AFSCME press release reads.
Like SEIU, AFSCME praised Malloy’s veto.
The “veto will provide Connecticut the opportunity to enact essential worker and community protections,” Barbara Simonetta, president of CT Health Care Associates/AFSCME, said. “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.”