Registered nurses at Tobey Hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital denounced a decision announced Thursday by Southcoast Health to close its maternity unit at Tobey Hospital at the end of 2019.

“Southcoast’s plan to close maternity services in Wareham will negatively impact hundreds of families who rely on local care,” said Sharon Miksch, a nurse at Tobey Hospital and chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “The ability of patients throughout the region to access safe, quality maternity care has already been devastated by the closure at Morton Hospital. Southcoast’s proposal will make it even harder for patients to receive the care they deserve. This will disrupt the lives of expectant mothers, their babies and their loved ones.”

In a letter sent to the MNA on Thursday, Southcoast said it “will permanently discontinue service as of December 31, 2019.” Southcoast said it plans to make up for the loss of maternity at Tobey with services at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford. Family Centered Unit (FCU) nurses at St. Luke’s have already been struggling to provide safe, quality care at all times because of an influx of patients who would previously have been cared for at Morton Hospital.

“The patient census in our FCU has been spiking over the last few months, making it very difficult to provide the kind of care our nurses pride ourselves on and that our families deserve,” said Deb Falk, a nurse in the emergency department at St. Luke’s Hospital and co-chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee. “We have brought up these concerns to Southcoast management during contract negotiations and they have yet to be addressed. Closing maternity at Tobey and sending additional patients to St. Luke’s will exacerbate this problem, making it even harder to uphold our promise of safe, high-quality patient care.”

 Southcoast said in its letter that it “intends to submit a formal ninety-day (90) notice of the proposed discontinuation of Tobey Hospital’s licensed inpatient maternal and newborn services to the Department of Public Health on or about September 30, 2019.” The DPH will schedule a public hearing as part of this process.

 The MNA has been tracking an increase in the closure of maternity and other services across the state and will be actively engaged with the DPH, local community groups and policymakers to advocate for the continuation of this service.  As hospitals have consolidated into massive corporate networks, there has been a move to close local services and force patients to access care at larger hospitals farther away, placing patients, particularly poor patients, with extreme hardship in accessing these services.

In fact, the MNA has filed legislation to strengthen the Commonwealth’s law related to hospital closures. An Act Relative to the Closing of Hospital Essential Services (S. 672/H. 1139), sponsored by Senator Julian Cyr and Representative Ed Coppinger will:

  • Extend the official notice period to the DPH in advance of a closure or discontinuation of health services.
  • Require any hospital proposing closure or discontinuation of health services to provide evidence of having notified and provided the opportunity for comment from affected municipalities before the notification period begins.
  • Instruct the Attorney General to seek an injunction to maintain the essential services for the duration of the notice period.
  • Prohibit the hospital from eligibility for an application for licensure or expansion for a period of three years from the date the service is discontinued, or until the essential health service is restored, or until such time as the DPH is satisfied with a modified plan.

Information from The Mass. Nurses Association


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