Standard & Poor's Corp. opened a regional office in Boston last week to provide better service to New England issuers, according to senior executives at the rating agency.

The office is the rating agency's third. The first office is the agency's headquarters in New York City and the second is in San Francisco, which opened in 1989.

Leo C. O'Neill, president of Standard & Poor's, said last week that an office will be opening in Chicago next month and another branch is under consideration for the Southeast.

At a reception last Thursday night, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Lieut. Gov. A. Paul Cellucci welcomed the rating agency to the city and said having analysts in town should facilitate rating reviews.

Heading up the Boston office is Philip N. Shapiro, former chief financial officer of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority who will become managing director at Standard & Poor's. Shapiro was responsible for managing more than $3 billion in bond issuance for the authority, with whom he worked for almost 10 years.

Standard & Poor's in a release said it will add two senior analysts to the Boston office before January.

Moody's Investors Service last week downgraded the Saints Memorial Medical Center to B from Ba.

The downgrade was the latest in a string of bad news for the Lowell-based medical center and was a result, mainly, Of the center's inability to provide a viable turnaround plan.

The medical center was created last year when St. Joseph's Hospital and St. John's Hospital merged. Both hospitals were suffering from financial woes and the merger was believed to be the only remedy for survival.

But since the merger, the medical center has been beset by numerous troubles.

Moody's said that the unaudited, preliminary financial reports for the medical center show an $11.8 million deficit and only $4.1 million in cash on hand. In downgrading the center, the rating agency said that the delay in providing a plan to improve its financial position suggests that further\problems are on the horizon.

In addition, the end of merger talks with Lowell General Hospital creates the possibility of more competitive pressures on Saints Memorial, Moody's said. And physicians in the Lowell area have started to refer the bulk of their patients to other facilities.

The downgrade affects $78 million in debt. In April, Fitch Investors Service downgraded the medical center to B. Standard & Poor's Corp. does not rate the center.

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