Massachusetts hospital faces pushback over decision to close birth center

The Massachusetts Nurses Association is showing its opposition to Beverly (Mass.) Hospital's plans to permanently close its freestanding birth center in September because of staffing shortages, The Salem News reported June 13.

The nurses union, which also represents midwives, has filed a grievance over the plan, accusing the hospital of violating a contract by laying off the union midwives who work at the birth center.

"We believe layoff is a clear violation of the nurses contract, and the grievance makes that clear," the MNA said in a statement shared with Becker's.

Beverly Hospital, part of Cambridge, Mass.-based Beth Israel Lahey Health, announced May 11 that it is closing the birth center. 

Since then, the hospital has received pushback not only from the union but also from community members. According to a news release shared with Becker's, community members, patients and birth center supporters are among those slated to participate in a rally June 13 in opposition to the planned closure.

"The broader concern for the nurse[s] and the community is the decision to close this vital service," the MNA said. "The nurses were outraged to learn about the proposed closure, after they had spent months negotiating with the hospital to secure a new contract that included wage increases specifically designed to recruit and retain the staff needed to keep the service open. The fact that the corporation agreed to those increases for that purpose, making no mention of a coming closure, only to then close the service immediately after the nurses ratified the agreement is a disservice to the entire community, as well as the nurses who have served the community with distinction for years. The nurses are moved and gratified by the community's effort to rise up to support for this important and essential service."

In response to the union grievance and rally, Beverly Hospital reiterated its commitment to providing high-quality women's health services.

"Beverly Hospital will continue to be a welcoming resource to women who are interested in seeing a midwife for their care," Mark Gendreau, MD, the hospital's chief medical officer, said in a statement shared with Becker's.

Dr. Gendreau said the hospital will continue to offer midwife-assisted births via affiliations with OB-GYN practices that employ midwives, and doulas will continue to be available for expectant mothers. However, the MNA said those types of partnerships violate the "no sub-contracting" stipulation in its contract with the hospital, according to The Salem News.

"We recognize that the birth center has provided services that are valued by members of our community," Dr. Gendreau added. "We appreciate the opportunity hospital leaders had to meet with community residents to hear their perspectives and our commitment building upon our well-established and robust women's health service offerings and incorporate as much as the birth center experience into the hospital labor and delivery setting."  

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