Baystate Franklin anticipates uptick in patients with maternity unit closure in Leominster

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-27-2023 4:01 PM

GREENFIELD — After UMass Memorial Health’s recent announcement that it intends to shut down the maternity unit on its Leominster campus in September, Baystate Franklin Medical Center is anticipating more calls in the coming months as patients make birthing plans.

“I think now that people are having to travel to get to a hospital, they’re looking at their options more closely,” said Anne Kilroy, a certified nurse midwife at Pioneer Women’s Health at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. “I think for a lot of people, the first thing is convenience, having the facility close by. So, if they’re already going to be driving a ways to get to Heywood [Hospital] or to Emerson [Hospital] or [UMass Memorial Medical Center], they’re going to look at what’s in the other direction, and that’s us.”

The proposed closure in Leominster will include 19 antepartum, labor and delivery, and postpartum beds; 21 infant nursery beds; and an operating room, according to the letter submitted to the state Department of Public Health.

Pioneer Women’s Health Practice Manager Erica Cooke said that so far, her practice has received two calls following news at the Leominster campus. One call came from a doctor’s office, referring a patient to Greenfield, and a second call came directly from a patient.

“They’ll get a lot of their current clients delivered,” Kilroy said of the Leominster maternity unit, which is expected to close in September. “I anticipate more calls because there are a lot of people in the Athol, Orange, Templeton or Winchendon area who don’t, for whatever reason, want to go to Heywood. I also think that people in the region know we’re a midwifery model of care and have water births.”

Cooke said sometimes people will pass by more than one hospital for a water birth at The Birthplace at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.

“That’s already a draw in Hampshire and Franklin counties,” she said.

Legislature likely to focus on hospital closures

The State House News Service reported last week that lawmakers appear increasingly likely to make hospital expansions and closures an area of scrutiny this session, fueled in part by the planned shutdown of the Leominster maternity unit.

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After a bipartisan coalition of legislators slammed UMass Memorial Health last week for its moves to shutter the birthing center, a top senator signaled that she’s working with her House counterpart to subject those kinds of changes to greater state oversight.

Health Care Financing Committee Chair Sen. Cindy Friedman said the “determination of need” process that is used to review proposed expansions and shutdowns, which the House sought to change last session without support from the Senate, “is not working right now.”

“It was put together, I think, the last time 13 years ago. The world has changed. We need to fix it,” Friedman said. “I think [House Chair John Lawn] and I totally agree on that. We’re really focusing on doing something around that, which would include these kinds of closures.”

Lawmakers and health care practitioners alike are urging committee leaders to focus in particular on giving regulators more “teeth” to limit the impact of hospitals discontinuing services.

They endorsed legislation (H 1175 / S 736) that would require a hospital to notify the state of a planned closure at least one year in advance, plus secure support, non-opposition or at least feedback from affected municipalities, according to a bill summary. The state Department of Public Health would be required to determine if the services set to be axed are necessary for maintaining access in the region. If a hospital moves to discontinue a service deemed essential without an approved plan in place to continue patient access, the attorney general would be instructed to seek an injunction to keep that service in place for the full year-long notification period.

Existing state regulations require hospitals to notify the Department of Public Health, staff, patients and other affected parties at least 120 days in advance of their intent to end an “essential service.” If the department finds that the service “is necessary for preserving access and health status within the hospital’s service area,” the hospital must file a plan to assure patient access to those services.

Kilroy, who worked at the Leominster campus until 2012 when it downsized its midwifery program, said she’s familiar with the region and the social issues facing the population. The closure of the maternity unit, she said, “is a huge loss” and poses transportation issues.

“Any time a community hospital’s obstetric unit is being closed down, it’s a tremendous loss for the community,” Kilroy said. “I feel for Leominster and I think our entire practice does. We want to make sure these people, these patients are taken care of.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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