The following is a press release
FRAMINGHAM – Last week, the multi-billion dollar owner of MetroWest Medical Center, Tenet Healthcare, sent a letter to the Department of Public Health providing the required closure notices for an important inpatient medical services at the both the Leonard Morse Hospital and Framingham Union Hospital campuses at a time when the state and region are preparing to confront the expected second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposals call for the closure of the Medical/Surgical Service, Intensive Care Unit, Operating Rooms, Emergency Department, and Outpatient Rehabilitation Service at the MetroWest Medical Center Leonard Morse Campus at 67 Union Street in Natick, as well as the Pediatric Unit located on the Framingham Union Hospital campus.
“The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) represents more than 150 registered nurses who work on the Leonard Morse campus, and we are opposed to this service closure plan as it will impact the safety of residents of the Greater Natick region, and result in the added stress to an already overburdened healthcare system in the region,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, RN, President of the MNA. “We are also alarmed by Tenet’s callous decision to close its pediatric program in Framingham at a time when the community is considering the reopening of schools during this pandemic. This is yet another example of a profit -hungry healthcare conglomerate putting its concern for its bottom line ahead of its mission to protect the communities it is licensed to serve.”
For more than 120 years, Leonard Morse Hospital has provided life-saving emergency, award winning medical and surgical care, as well as desperately needed psychiatric care to the residents of Natick and its surrounding communities.
The closure of the medical services at the Leonard Morse Hospital campus was first announced in late February, but the decision was put on hold after the corporation received pressure from public officials concerned about the loss of these services as the state confronted the first wave of the pandemic.
Now, as soon as the first wave has passed, they have reintroduced the plan, while adding the new notice of the plan to close pediatric services in Framingham.
“This will no doubt result in longer wait times for patients in the Framingham Union and Newton Wellesley emergency departments and in dangerous delays for patients in need of ICU and inpatient care,” Kelly-Williams said. “While we are glad that they are preserving psychiatric services at the facility, Tenet is compromising this program by closing their specialized psychiatric unit within the emergency department, a unique and important service for the care of mental health patients in crisis. Keep in mind across Massachusetts, more than 42,000 patients a year with behavioral health conditions board in emergency departments for days and even weeks waiting for care. Also, due to the enormous stress for residents caused by the pandemic, the need for behavioral health services has only increased.”
The Association has been asking Tenet if they have plans to expand psychiatric services, given the number of beds and space that would be available following the closure of those inpatient medical services, yet Tenet has stated they have no plans to either maintain a psychiatric emergency room, or to add desperately needed beds to meet the increased needs of the community.
Tenet Healthcare has come under fire for its efforts to exploit the pandemic to boost its bottom line.
In fact, Tenet Healthcare just announced that it saw a significant increase in profits during the peak of the COVID-19 surge in Massachusetts, partly due to is effort to furlough and reduce essential nursing staff.
The company’s earnings report released on Monday shows Tenet posted earnings of $88 million between April and June, more than three times the earnings posted during the same period in 2019.
Tenet’s corporate leaders in Dallas have touted their plan to use furloughs and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from the federal stimulus package to “to ensure we were focused on maximizing our cash position” – not to improve care for patients.
Tenet reported that it had more than $500 million “cash in hand”, it collected $867 million in grants from the CARES Act stimulus package, while pocketing $1.5 billion in advance Medicare payments, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“To cut staff and close essential services, while padding its bottom line with funding meant to improve care during this pandemic is disgraceful,” said Kelly-Williams.
The decision by Tenet to close these services is part of a trend by healthcare providers across the state to discontinue needed services within a number of communities.
Last year, Baystate Health closed the ICUs at Baystate Noble Hospital and Baystate Wing Hospital, and is proposing to close all its psychiatric beds at three of its hospitals in Greenfield, Palmer and Westfield.
On June 30, Trinity Health closed 74 inpatient psychiatric beds for adults and adolescents in Holyoke, leaving the Leonard Morse adolescent unit one of the few facilities providing care to adolescents at a time when there is a critical shortage of these services. In June, Cape Cod Healthcare used the pandemic as cover to close the maternity unit at Falmouth Hospital.
It is also important to note that last month, after being flooded, Steward Healthcare was forced to close all of Norwood Hospital.
“Our organization will be working with local public officials, community groups and local residents to mobilize opposition to this shortsighted and dangerous decision and will be presenting that opposition at the public hearing that DPH will be holding for the community to determine if these are essential services for the health of the community,” Kelly-Williams said.
Under Massachusetts law, before the closure of any services, the provider must give a 120-day notice of their intent to close, and the DPH is required to hold a public hearing, yet to be scheduled in this case, to allow the public to voice their concerns about the closure.
After the hearing, the DPH issues a finding as to whether the service is essential to protecting the public health of the community., Unfortunately, even after making such a finding, the agency lacks the authority to stop the closure and can only require the hospital to submit a plan as to how they will manage the loss of the service.
Based on the notices filed with DPH last week, MetroWest would be closing services at the Leonard Morse campus on October 24th, and the pediatric unit at Framingham Union Hospital on or about Nov. 28.
The MNA has filed legislation to strengthen the hand of the state to protect essential services, and a number of legislators, who has seen their communities lose vital services, have been working to support this and other measures to ensure the Department of Public Health can actually protect communities from these unwarranted closures.
“It is time for the state to protect the patients and communities throughout the Commonwealth from these ongoing efforts by healthcare providers to place their concern for profits over the healthcare needs of the Commonwealth,” Kelly-Williams concluded.