This week, a for-profit Texas-based healthcare company under investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell filed for bankruptcy. Campbell alleges Steward Health Care’s business model was designed to funnel money from the commonwealth’s health care system to its management and investors through debt-laden hospitals built to fail. Earlier this month, the first-term Democrat also issued a proposed settlement decree with a Berkshire County company that allegedly polluted the Hoosic River from an Adams facility. Campbell is also reacting to the mass arrests on college campuses during demonstrations against Israel’s bloody war in Gaza. She spoke with WAMC Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes about those issues, beginning with the collapse of Steward Health Care.

CAMPBELL: Obviously, Steward has been in the news for some time, and most recently filed a bankruptcy which of course raises public concern, and I hear that concern as residents and providers do. And what we are stressing and I want folks to really understand is that there are pros and cons to this bankruptcy. There’s a role that my office plays directly in this and have filed various briefs with the court in Texas on this, and the number one thing we want to stress is that folks should continue to seek care at their local Steward facilities, and that the bankruptcy process allows for us to push for Steward to prioritize care to make sure these hospitals have everything that they would need to continue to provide that care with the direct oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services, while we show up in court to represent the interests of our patients and our providers to ensure there is no interruption. And then the second question I know is coming up is, how did we get here and how do we hold Steward accountable? That is an open matter, and we are looking at all of the financial mismanagement and other details, and it will take us time to do that review. But when we complete it, if they violated any laws, we will absolutely hold them accountable for anything they did to pull value out of these institutions, to strip them of their value for profit. And then the last piece is, how do we avoid getting here ever again with any health care facility? We’re going to continue to work with the House and Senate. The House has legislation that expands our tools to allow for us to hold folks accountable to review these transactions and certain types of private equity transactions in the immediate and not after the fact, and I’m confident that the House will continue their work and that the Senate will also put forth a proposal which we will work with them on as well. So, it’s a lot of moving pieces and parts, but we will do our part to make sure that not only are we protecting our patients, but the doctors, the providers, and the nurses as well, and do it with the urgency they deserve and the transparency they deserve.

Now what are you concerned that Steward may perpetuated here in Massachusetts? Can you sort of give us the background for how Steward came across your office’s radar and what crimes they might allegedly be connected to?

That’s the ongoing review, and I can’t speak to an active review because it is ongoing and we are gathering information. What I can share is the filings that we filed with the court in Texas that is overseeing this bankruptcy, which makes it really clear that Steward was intentional in hiding its financial decisions, and we’re pushing that court to reveal to us what some of those decisions were, what their current assets and debts are in full. We don’t have all of that information just yet. We’re also reviewing a lot of things that happened even before I took over as Attorney General. That’s going to take some time. But I want folks to know if they violated any of our consumer protection laws or other laws, we will absolutely hold Steward accountable for how we got here. But that’s going to take some time, but rest assured it will happen. And in the immediate, we will work with the administration on ensuring access to care, which is not our direct lane that is the Governor’s lane along with the administration. But we want to support those efforts, of course, as well.

Your office has announced a proposed consent decree with a minerals processing facility in Adams, Massachusetts here in Berkshire County. Can you sort of break down the situation between your office and Specialty Minerals Incorporated and what this concerns?

Absolutely, it’s an ongoing- It has been an ongoing matter, I should say, and last Friday, we announced the settlement with Specialty Minerals, and we know they cover a large region and not just Massachusetts- Vermont and in other parts of the country as well. And what we alleged in the complaint was, and this was back going back to 2021, is that they released high alkaline turbid wastewater into the Hoosic River in violation of federal and state law, literally turning that river white. And so, the office has been working really hard and we have reached this resolution and we think it’s a good one and it includes several different provisions. One, I want to stress, it includes $100,000 in civil penalties in fees and assessments for the alleged conduct. It also includes $200,000 that will hopefully, if this is approved by the court, go to community based organizations that are doing everything in their power to create projects that will improve infrastructure but also benefit the water quality of that river. And then the last is injunctive relief, pushing the company to upgrade their water waste treatment facilities, other procedures related to maintenance and operating, their operating procedures, as well as cleaning up lime sediment deposits, which are, of course, the bottom of the river through some of their discharge channels from their wastewater facility. So that injunctive relief is just as important as a monetary relief. And we’re going to continue to work with community and various stakeholders in Western Mass collaboratively on getting this done so it never happens again.

And where is that process right now? Is it in the hands of the courts? Or where’s that timeline sitting now?

That’s exactly right. And so, we are pushing, and hopefully it will be approved by the court, and when it is, we will of course work to implement the provisions of it.

Now Massachusetts is receiving another tranche of money from the ongoing opioid crisis settlements emerging out of long-term prosecution of opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma. What is this most recent $8 million allotment from and how is the Commonwealth going to use it?

This is something we’re continuing to follow closely. I will say there are several settlements through various pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies that we have received resources for to address the opioid crisis. Some of these dollars go to the remediation trust fund at the state level, some go to municipalities, and there is also the ongoing Supreme Court decision with respect to Purdue Pharma. And so, there are lots of monies that will come to Massachusetts, some have already come, and I am really grateful to my team, and particularly my health care team that is working with the advisory trust fund at the state level that is responsible for putting out these monies and municipal leadership and other stakeholders, including health and human services, on making sure that municipalities get these resources, and that they have guidance and technical assistance provided in some part by our office, but also other stakeholders, and how they spend those resources to address the ongoing opioid crisis in the commonwealth. And this includes all kinds of things, but we want to make sure that it’s directed towards treatment and recovery initiatives, community-based health centers, and other health care providers that are doing innovative things in our respective communities to reduce addiction, everything having to do with awareness and education. And so, we will continue to push that work. It is ongoing, and there are a lot of moving pieces and parts, but we have some time, and the thing we’re focused on the most is making sure municipalities that receive these dollars have the technical assistance they need.

This spring, you issued a warning about the role that AI is going to play in Massachusetts in coming years and the risks associated with this new technology. Can you speak to us a little bit about what you’re trying to get out to the commonwealth broadly about the risks that AI could pose to the commonwealth?

Absolutely. One thing we stressed in the advisory – and it’s the most comprehensive advisory issued by any AG in the country, so I’m proud of my team with respect to the all of the new emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence that we were seeing – and we stressed in the advisory that there are benefits that come from this technology, and it’s being used every single day in some way, and we are a state that prides herself on innovation and we want to continue to encourage that, and where we are developing things that are innovative using this technology, we welcome that. At the same time, there are risks and risks that we as an office are already seeing. Some of the risks have to do with how the technology is created and delivered and the bias and discriminatory impact and effects it can have, whether in the financial context, the housing context, you name it, we’re concerned about those bias and risk. We’re also concerned about the fact that the lack of transparency or explainability. There are folks who are using this technology, and they may not even know they’re using the technology and the risks of using that technology. And so, there’s a very comprehensive approach we took to say that our consumer protection laws, our data privacy laws aren’t discriminatory- Or I should say, our civil rights laws apply to all of these risks, and whether it is a human being or technology, they apply the same. And so, we’re going to continue to get out there to educate folks on this, and if folks have concerns about interacting or interfacing with this technology in a consumer context or some other context, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office, and we’re happy to follow up.

Across America, there has been campus protests about the ongoing situation of America’s support for the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. This week, we saw over 100 arrested at UMass Amherst who were participating in a pro-Palestinian demonstration. From your perspective as the top lawyer in Massachusetts, what are your thoughts on this ongoing conversation, these mass arrests, and is there any sort of statewide guidance or advisory from your office about this situation as it continues to evolve?

We are following this closely, and of course it’s a situation that is evolving across the country. And I just told some of my team members, we had a new employee orientation, that as we do the work, I’m mindful that we are all experiencing collective trauma, including from this devastating international war that continues to unfold. And as we witness the loss of children and civilians, that, of course, has a detrimental effect on all of us. We first and foremost respect the rights and the First Amendment rights, I will say, of our young people who are taking to their campuses and other community places and spaces, to exercise those rights, and to share their concerns about what is happening internationally. And I was recently in a conversation with other AGs where some said, you know, if you look back in time, some of this may have maybe equated to how folks felt about maybe Vietnam. So, we wanted, we’re mindful of that trauma and how folks are using their First Amendment rights to respond. We are also directly in contact with general counsels of the various universities and campuses here in Massachusetts, and as we are pushing for folks to abide by those First Amendment rights and other civil rights, we also are mindful that they have concerns related to safety, and where there are concerns about safety where it is not protected by First Amendment or other laws, then they obviously are navigating this as best they can. So, we’re in contact with these campuses, with the hope they do it in a way that is productive, that is civil, that acknowledges the collective trauma of all of us in these First Amendment rights and other rights of our young people and those who are showing up. And I think some campuses that are doing it really well are in direct communication with the students, they’re in direct communication with faculty, and frankly, trying to pull faculty in who have trusted relationships to be a part of the solution here. So, we’re also of course in contact with community-based organizations that are looking to help and so it is a, at times can be a very difficult and constantly moving situation, but we’re doing our best to support all parties involved.

Mass. AG Campbell talks collapse of Steward Health Care, proposed settlement with Hoosic River polluter, campus arrests

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