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FRAMINGHAM – For the last two holiday weekends, MetroWest Medical Center requested local ambulance companies and MetroWest Fire Departments divert ambulances from its hospital in Framingham.

The Tenet-owned hospital said it was short staffed in labor and delivery, and did not want ambulances to bring pregnant women to Framingham Union Hospital/MetroWest Medical Center. SOURCE media broke the news Christmas weekend and New Year’s Day weekend, and was the only media outlet that published the news.

Last night, January 3, the Mayor and the City Council discussed the community issue at the Framingham City Council meeting.

“With regard to the hospital I’ve been aware for several weekends now that they’ve been on diversion, especially for labor and delivery patients,” said Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky. “And, we didn’t even know about it at first … And then I learned that it happened again over the New Year’s Eve weekend and then today in the mail I got an anonymous letter from a delivery room nurse who quit on the spot. She was so fed up, she or gave her resignation and walked out of the building the same day. She feels it was so bad she filed an anonymous complaint with the Department of Public Health.”

SOURCE media also received a copy of that complaint letter filed with the Department of Public Health. (It was not signed and SOURCE does not publish anonymous letters to the editor.)

“It’s a serious problem and I’m not convinced that the hospital is doing everything they can to correct the problem. And it’s something that I’m going to be bringing it up at our next meeting with our legislative delegation that they should know about what’s going on because they would have more authority to look into it than us. But it is a serious problem and I think we need to pay attention to it,” said Mayor Sisitsky to the 11-member Framingham City Council last night.

SOURCE reached out to MetroWest Medical Center Christmas weekend, last weekend, and last night for a statement, and none was received.

“I got a couple anonymous calls. I got a couple emails, and my wife has friends that work there because that’s where she started her career. And whatever you heard, it’s worse is all I’m going to tell you. It’s worse than what we’re hearing,” said City Council Chair Phil Ottaviani Jr. “Tenet just doesn’t seem to care. They really just don’t seem to care. We found that out with the Cancer Center. … It is a big problem.”

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In April of 2022, SOURCE media broke the news that Tenet wanted to close the Cancer Center at MetroWest Medical Center.

Through the extensive efforts of Senate President Karen Spilka, who fought for the Cancer Center to stay open in Framingham, Tenet eventually made a deal with Tufts to keep the center open but under Tufts Medical not Tenet.

The deal was agreed upon in 2022, and Tufts is expected to take over the cancer center this month.

But during the pandemic, Tenet closed the pediatric unit at MetroWest Medical Center.

And Tenet closed the Leonard Morse Hospital and turned it into a Behavioral Health Center. (Source media was the first to report that decision in January 2020.) Since that closure the emergency room at Framingham Union has been crowded and understaffed.

And staff members are worried labor & delivery could be the next casualty of Tenet-owned MetroWest Medical Center.

Last night Dr. David Rishikof, President of the medical staff at MetroWest Medical Center, spoke via Zoom to the City Council.

“Thank you to this Council and the Mayor for your advocacy and for recognizing the concerns that we all have about Metro West Medical Center. It’s a vital institution for our community and I think that the physician staff, the current nursing staff that remain are remarkable. And we stay because we have a hope for a better medical center in the future. We acknowledge and appreciate that the status quo is far from where we need to be specifically about labor and delivery. I’m a pulmonary and critical care doctor. I only know from my colleagues who work there how difficult a time it has been for the people who work there. I share my concern about Tenet and their response to a predictable and gradually unfolding problem that has led to this crisis point,” said Dr. Rishikof.

“I too have received numerous calls. I spent under previous ownership, I think it was five or six years on the hospital board there. I know the medical staff and some of the folks there. The reports back are not pleasant, frankly. They’re scary and they’re what you’re hearing multiplied,” said District 8 Councilor John Stefanini.

“To me it amounts to constructive closure, which is in violation of the state statute. It’s in violation of their order from the Department of Public Health,” said Councilor Stefanini.

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MetroWest Medical Center was warned in spring 2022 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health not to divert ambulances, after it diverted ambulances to the emergency room multiple days in April. The hospital CEO Ava Collins wrote the hospital was having IT issue and needed to go “code black.” The state said that was not acceptable. Since then Collins resigned as CEO and David Elgarico was brought in as CEO.

MetroWest Medical Center CEO Elgarico told the Framingham Mayor the first weekend of labor & delivery ambulance diversion that it was temporary and would be just one shift.

Instead, it last all weekend and then happened again the next weekend.

SOURCE learned that on some of the labor & delivery shifts those holiday weekends, no registered nurse was on shift, and on many instances in the last three weeks, only one or two RNs are on per shift in that department.

MetroWest Medical Center has issued no public statement and despite three emails to the PR person for the hospital, there has been no response.

“We need our (state) delegation to come forward and understand that this is critical. Because as one surface topples, and we heard that around the oncology, everything else follows. And maternity is much more basic than oncology. And if we want an emergency room and we want to have the kinds of services that are critical for a big chunk of our population in our community and our quality of life, I think we’re going to have to get more assertive with these folks. And I would hope that your (Sisitsky) administration would take an aggressive posture with the regulators on this,” said Councilor Stefanini last night to the Mayor.

“It is the public, the people who need the care, who are going to suffer with devastating consequences,” said District 9 City Council Tracey Bryant.

“What Councilor Ottaviani said is true. It is much worse than what we hear,” said Councilor Bryant. “I think it’s unconscionable too. Even if you had three people and two called in sick, that was never enough to staff in the first place. That wasn’t acceptable.”

Councilor Bryant said Tenet and MetroWest Medical center management need to answer for the staffing.

But staffing at medical facilities and hospitals has been an issue since the pandemic. Many medical personnel are burnt out and leaving the profession. Not enough individuals are going into the profession, and like so many other businesses, the health care industry has been struck with a labor shortage.

“I’ll just go on a record and say it’s just shameful. It’s downright shameful. It is a dereliction of their duty to this community. And I hope Mr. Mayor, that you find a way to the find out who gave the orders from the brass down in Dallas. That came from Dallas,” said District 5 City Councilor Noval Alexander. “I’d like to see who’s given these horrible orders and if there’s a way I know that’s probably beyond your vision, but getting somebody fined for this type of behavior and it’s really disgusting. So that’s all I need to say.”

During the meeting, a nurse who had has worked at MetroWest Medical Center for more than 45 years, and just recently gave her 2-week notice, called in to tell Councilors what it is like inside labor & Delivery at MetroWest Medical.

“I am an employee in labor and delivery for 45 years. I have never seen it this bad in all my years. Safety is a big issue,” said Eileen Failkow, an RN.

“We used to staff with three or four nurses, and labor and delivery is actually not that basic. I mean after a patient delivers, they can bleed out very quickly. There’s a lot of other things that can happen. They can have seizures for having high blood pressure. We have patients that are on mag sulfate drips for that. All those things are one-to-one care. If you have one or two nurses, you don’t have enough help. Something’s going to happen. And we have a whole group, a whole community that depends on this hospital. That depends that we take good care of them and they deserve a safe place to deliver their babies and this is not a safe place anymore,” said Failkow

“I just gave my notice and I gave them two weeks notice. I’m scared to death to go to work the rest of the time for these two weeks, but I will complete my two weeks notice because I’m not going out with 45 years experience and a bad record,” she told Councilors.

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“The 6th Middlesex District is where this hospital is located. And for those who have a reality that we don’t discuss enough is that mortality rates for childbirth for women of color are two to three times greater than from for their white women counterparts. Anybody who knows the South side. Everybody likes to talk about the diversity. We’re talking about the survival of women, we’re talking about the survival of our children. So I wanted to come here. I’ve received the same phone calls, I’ve received the same emails, I’ve received the same letters. And I just want to publicly state my commitment to cooperating with the Mayor, to cooperating with the rest of the legislative delegation, to collaborate with the rest of the City Council to find a solution to this,” said State Representative Priscila Sousa, who was sworn-in as Framingham’s newest member today, January 4. “we cannot ignore this reality.”

“They can’t get to Newton Wellesley. They’ve got no means to get to Newton Wellesley. They go to MetroWest but they can’t get serviced. It’s awful,” said City Councilor Chair Ottaviani Jr.

“This needs to be an all hands on deck. When you have nurses calling in – My mom’s a nurse, John’s mom was a nurse. Your (Ottaviani) wife’s a nurse. I think George’s mother was a nurse – When you have nurses calling in. Nurses get things done. They don’t complain, they don’t quit. They get things done. When you have nurses resigning with decades of meaningfully, decades of experience like that, it not only impacts critical care in the present, but it also is a major loss for young people coming into the profession Because what you learn in the classroom is one thing, but you need the mentorship of experienced nursing staff,” said District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon.

“And Dr. Richard Rishikof said it very well. And the staff, the medical staff, the people doing the job are spectacular. The Council’s pretty clear in its comments that our frustrations are certainly not with the people, who are trying very badly to make it work. But among many things, we’re paying the price for not over the years doing what we can to hold Tenet accountable, via our state partners and state regulators. When you chase the official state dinosaur, instead of making sure that this doesn’t get to where it is. This is in part what happens,” said Councilor Cannon. “I’m encouraged by the change in leadership as of tomorrow, and I’m hopeful we can get some meaningful action on this,”

“I do agree with all of us, including what Councilor Cannon said about there is something seriously wrong when you’ve had nurses and other staff who’ve been, who have been in the trenches dedicated throughout changes in leadership. And even when the hospital has changed hands for decades and decades, their whole career here and now all of a sudden there’s mass exodus,” said Councilor Bryant. “There was something very wrong with that. And we need to hear from them to see the scope of it.”

“I said this last summer, when we had the discussion regarding the cancer center. I just feel like we’ve had the short straw here,” said City Councilor At-Large George King Jr. “When all the hospital consolidation happened, whenever it was back in the nineties, we got purchased by a for-profit and it’s been a disaster ever since.”

“You walk in the building, it looks old and run down it. And I feel terribly for the people who are working there, people who work there for 45 years. I’m sure they’re horrified. And until someone buys, until Tenet is willing to sell that hospital to a more responsible, more local healthcare provider, I have very little hope that we’re going to be able to turn this ship around,” said Councilor King.

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By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.