Top Senate Democrat backs updates to hospital closure rules as Leominster maternity unit plans to close

State lawmakers testify in the State House Tuesday in support of legislation that would impose new rules on hospitals seeking to close. Front row, right to left, representatives John Cronin, Natalie Higgins and Mike Kushmerek. In the second row, from right to left, representatives Kimberly Ferguson and Jonathan Zlotnik. (Chris Van Buskirk/Boston Herald)

The Senate’s top health care funding Democrat on Tuesday expressed support for changing rules on closing state-licensed hospitals and offered to contact the head of UMass Memorial Health Care to discuss closing a center of childbirth at Leominster.

More than 40 hospitals or health units have closed in Massachusetts since 2009, according to the state’s largest nurses union. State law is failing to address this time of crisis for patients and caregivers, said the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which is backing a bill in Beacon Hill that would enact more rules for hospitals seeking to close their flying.

Senator Cindy Friedman, chair of the Senate Health Care Financing Committee, said she thought it very important and reasonable to understand what was behind the decision to close the Leominster birth center, operated by the UMass Memorial HealthAlliance- Clinton Hospital.

And Friedman said he supports changing the way the state handles need determination, or the laws and regulations that govern substantive changes to services in health care settings. The Arlington Democrat said he will review bills incurred by the nurses’ association to see if they will actually do what we want them to do.

It’s very clear that we need to fix this, Friedman told the Herald after a multi-hour hearing in the State House. We need to fix that because I don’t think our need determination process reflects what’s happening in health care today, and we need to update that.

UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital announced last month that it planned to close its maternity unit in Leominster on Sept. 22 due to industry-wide workforce challenges that have made it difficult to fully staff the ward, it said. said hospital president Steve Roach.

Roach said UMass has provided notice to the Department of Public Health and all interested parties as required by state law. Patients can continue to receive obstetric care and give birth within UMass Memorial Health Center at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

This was an especially difficult decision for our healthcare system, as our compassionate healthcare workers have helped thousands of parents and families navigate the journey of childbirth and welcome new loved ones into their lives for so many decades, Roach said in a statement. Note.

The decision to close the birthing center sparked protests from local lawmakers, community members and the nurses who work at the hospital.

Amy Gagnon has worked as a nurse at the Leominster birth center for more than 12 years and has said she is outraged at the plan to close an essential service in the area. Over the past 10 years, 10 maternity wards have been closed in Massachusetts, she said.

This closure, if allowed, will have a devastating impact on families in my community, especially economically disadvantaged residents who don’t have the ability to travel long distances to get care in Worcester, he told lawmakers Tuesday. It could mean that mothers will give birth in our already busy emergency room, which lacks the adequate staff, skills or resources to provide the care these mothers and babies need.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association wants lawmakers to push through legislation from Sen. Julian Cyr and Representative Ed Coppinger that would extend the official notice period hospitals licensed by the Department of Public Health must give the state before a closure from six months to a year or interruption of health services.

The additional notice time gives communities more time to evaluate potential closures and the effect it would have on health care in a municipality, said Representative Jonathan Zlotnik, a Democrat from Gardner.

Six months is not enough for communities to seek state resources, organize, make counterarguments, gather data or prepare for other outcomes, he said.

That’s why this bill is so important, because, again, anyone who’s been through this knows how critical that time is in terms of addressing these issues and trying to save these services in our community, he said.

A Department of Public Health spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The proposal directs the Attorney General to seek an injunction to maintain essential health care[s] ongoing during the notice period. It would also require hospitals proposing closures or interruptions to provide evidence that they gave notice to affected municipalities, according to the text of the bill.

The bill also prevents hospitals from applying for a license or expanding for three years after health services are disrupted or a facility is closed. And the legislation prohibits the closure of beds, units or facilities during a declared state of health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peter McConarty, a GP who worked in Fitchburg for 38 years, including at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, said the decision to close the Leominster maternity ward on just four months’ notice was inhumane, at best. of hypotheses.

That’s less than the duration of a pregnancy, she told lawmakers. I mean, my gosh, that means people in the middle of their pregnancies are going to be trying to figure out where they’re going to go to have their baby safely.

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