New Bedford Light calls out silence on health care exec story

When founders of the New Bedford Light announced plans a year ago to launch a new nonprofit news site to cover the South Coast, they pointed to the desperate need for in-depth journalism that can shine a light on important issues in the region that are otherwise not adequately covered amid drastic cuts at for-profit newspapers. 

Since then, the new journalism enterprise has dug in on big topics, shedding light on issues affecting the region’s all-important fishing industry and highlighting how low vaccination rates are compounding the COVID crisis in New Bedford. 

Sometimes, though, the best that journalism can do to illuminate an important topic is to sound the alarm over the resistance of various powers-that-be to letting the public see what’s going on. That was the case this week with a 2,000-word-plus story documenting the walls of silence that have gone up in face of the New Bedford Light’s efforts to report on the case of Keith Hovan, the former CEO of Southcoast Health. 

In November, Hovan was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery in connection with an incident at his Rochester home. The Light says police also “confiscated dozens of legal firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition that were securely stored in his home.” Rochester police subsequently filed an application for a criminal complaint seeking felony charges against Hoven for possession of illegal firearms magazines or feeding devices. 

Hovan, who earned $2.5 million in 2019, according to the Light, took a paid leave following his arrest. In late January, Southcoast Health’s board of trustees announced that an acting CEO who had been running the three-hospital system would continue in that role, but “did not say whether Hovan could still be employed by Southcoast Health in some other capacity, or whether he will continue to collect his CEO-level salary,” according to this week’s story. 

And what does the health system have to say more than three weeks later? Nothing. 

When New Bedford Light asked if there was any type of settlement with Hovan in the works and whether there was information about a search for his successor, Southcoast Health said it had no comment. 

The Light published a list of all 16 members of the health system’s board of trustees and said it reached out to each of them to try to understand what’s happening. Only one member responded, and that was only to say that she couldn’t comment.  

Meanwhile, the legal case concerning Hovan’s ammunition cache remains equally murky and clouded in secrecy. In December, the domestic abuse charge was dismissed by a judge after Hovan’s wife declined to testify. But the ammunition case has fallen into the black hole of what are known in Massachusetts as “show-cause” hearings. 

Under this process, unique to Massachusetts, a clerk magistrate gathers information in a hearing – which is not open to the public – and decides whether there is probable cause to think a crime was committed and, if so, whether to allow the application for criminal charges to go forth. 

The Light unsuccessfully appealed to a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to have the proceedings opened up. Meanwhile, the Rochester police chief didn’t respond to inquiries from the Light asking about the case, so it’s now unclear where the matter stands. 

Following Boston Globe reporting on the problems inherent in such a secret judicial system, in 2018 the Trial Court appointed a working group of judges and other court officials to review the policies. The group issued a report a year later proposing some changes, but no action has yet been taken. 

For now, it’s not clear what’s happening with Hovan – either in relation to his status at Southcoast Health or any criminal proceedings. But the public is still being very well served by the new journalism enterprise. The very act of shining a light on a lack of transparency can be an important step in putting pressure on the health care and court systems to stop hiding from the public. 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Fare breakdown: The MBTA board of directors heard a gloomy report on alternative fare options, with fare free bus not saving money for two-thirds of passengers and a low-income discount costing a lot to implement. 

– The T’s analysis of roughly five months of data from the Route 28 free bus experiment indicates a third of the passengers saved money and two-thirds did not. Those who didn’t save money used the bus to get to other T services such as subway or commuter rail, where they did have to pay fares to board. On the bright side, eliminating fares did attract more riders and reduced “dwell time” at bus stops by 20 percent.

– The news on a means-tested, or low-income, fare also posed challenges. T staff said granting a discount to low-income riders would attract more riders but cost a lot of money, anywhere from $59 million to more than $100 million a year.

– The T board took no action after the report and announced no plan to revisit the issue. For now, it appears municipalities are the ones inclined to experiment with fare reductions. Cambridge, Brookline, Watertown, and Salem are exploring subsidizing fare free bus routes in their communities, much as Boston has done. Somerville has approached the T about a means-tested fare — giving residents with low incomes prepaid fare cards usable on any transit service. Read more.

Free speech: The new University of Austin aims to promote freedom of inquiry in pursuing a college education, but the school’s champions face challenges ahead and critics are dismissing the launch as little more than a publicity stunt by the political right. Read more.

GLX is coming: MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the Green Line extension to Union Square in Somerville will open to customers on March 21, but he says the opening of the branch to Medford is being pushed back from May to late summer. Read more.

Fare gates are coming: Fare gates are being installed at North Station this spring to deter fare evasion. Instead of paying or having their fare card checked on board by a conductor, commuter rail customers using North Station will have to tap in. No word yet on whether the gates will be installed at South Station and Back Bay Station, as previous plans called for. Read more.

Blanket waiver: The Baker administration is asking US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh for a blanket waiver to forgive all non-fraudulent unemployment insurance overpayments. Read more.

OPINION

Vision time: Education activists Devin Morris and Roxann Harvey call on Boston Mayor Michelle Wu to lay out a comprehensive vision for education in Boston. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

A Boston city council hearing over the Mayor Michelle Wu’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers turns testy. (Boston Herald

Boston carried out its 42n annual “homeless census,” with city workers, joined by Mayor Michelle Wu, fanning out overnight on Wednesday to tally the number of people living on the city’s streets; the final count won’t be available for several days. (Boston Globe

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Russian troops have entered the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv as part of the all-out invasion aimed at toppling the country’s democratically elected government. (New York Times

President Biden is expected to nominate federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman, to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring justice Stephen Breyer. (Washington Post)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Cambridge-based Moderna reported more than $12 billion in profits for 2021, cashing in big-time on the company’s development of the one of the first COVID-19 vaccines. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

The state’s commissioner of early education and care, Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, is resigning just 2½ years into her tenure. (Boston Globe)  

The Fall River city council signed off on plans for a new $293 million facility to house the Diman Regional Technical Vocational High School. (Herald News

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The National Consumer Law Center estimates 800,000 Massachusetts families owe nearly $675 million in utility bills. (MassLive)