UMass Memorial Health offers plan to mitigate impacts of controversial maternity ward closure

UMass Memorial HealthAlliance - Clinton Hospital in Leominster, MA. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
UMass Memorial HealthAlliance - Clinton Hospital in Leominster, MA. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

UMass Memorial Medical Center officials intend to work with transit officials to help redirect patients to other area hospitals, especially UMass Memorial Medical Center's campus in Worcester, if they follow through with a Leominster maternity ward's closure.

The health care system on Tuesday submitted a 17-page letter with state regulators outlining steps it would take to mitigate the impact of shuttering the birthing center. The proposal to close the center has drawn intense blowback from elected officials and organized labor groups, who say the closure will impact patients' ability to access care.

If the birthing center shuts down in September as UMass Memorial Health plans, residents in the area will need to travel to Gardner, Worcester or Concord for labor and delivery — all at least 30 minutes away, bipartisan coalition of legislators said in at a Health Care Financing Committee hearing in June.

Rebecca Rodman, senior counsel at Husch Blackwell LLP, wrote on UMass Memorial's behalf that there are four other hospitals in the area — the center's primary Worcester campus, Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Heywood Hospital in Gardner, and Emerson Hospital in Concord — that also offer inpatient maternity services and have "sufficient capacity" to absorb patients that today use the HealthAlliance-Clinton facility in Leominster.

To help with transportation needs, operators of the facility plan to contract with the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority to provide non-emergency medical transport to "birthing people identified with transportation barriers" and family transportation to the Worcester campus. That option would not cover emergency transportation for people giving birth nor for medical prenatal and postpartum appointments with community OB/GYN providers.

The Department of Public Health previously deemed the Leominster facility an "essential service," a decision that required UMass Memorial to craft the plan filed Tuesday, according to the Worcester Business Journal.

Hospital officials told DPH in their latest correspondence that "financial support alone is not enough" to stave off closure of the site, pointing to persistent staffing challenges as a key factor.

"To maintain the current service — the Hospital would need to recruit numerous additional nurses, surgical technicians, OB/GYN physicians, and anesthesiologists," Rodman wrote. "However, there are not enough births locally to support an increase in local OB/GYNs. New OB/GYNs are primarily taking jobs in a setting like the Medical Center in Worcester, where they can be active enough that each practitioner can assist with between 170-220 births per year to maintain skills and thus quality of care delivered."

DPH has 10 days to review the plan, which prompted criticism from community groups that have opposed the proposed closure, and offer additional feedback.



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