UMass Memorial maternity unit closure plan continues to draw criticism

UMass Memorial Health unveiled plans in May to close an inpatient maternity unit in late September. The system continues to face pushback on the decision, now not only for its initial closure plan but for a follow-up plan on how access to maternity care will be preserved.

UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital proposed a plan in May to close its maternity inpatient unit in Leominster, Mass., effective Sept. 22, 2023. The unit has averaged 1.3 births per day through most of fiscal year 2023 and experienced staffing shortages, the hospital noted in its closure plan. 

After the state deemed maternity care an essential service, it required the system to submit a plan for maintaining access to maternal care after the unit's closure. The system had 15 days to submit the plan. 

Now Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella is asking the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to reject UMass Memorial's access plan, arguing that the system "failed miserably" in accounting for maternity care access, according to NBC Boston

The 17-page post-closure plan "confirm[s] what we in North Worcester County already knew — that very little thought and planning went into this decision that effects [sic] the lives of the most vulnerable in our region," the mayor told NBC Boston.

One criticism of UMass Memorial's plan is its use of data from to calculate the miles and estimated travel times from different parts of the region to four area hospitals that are equipped to absorb patients from the Leominster facility. The mayor said the use of MapQuest reflects a "lack of effort."

"Using to determine drive times instead of real time traffic data is just one example of the lack of importance the Hospital places on this process," Mr. Mazzarella told the local news outlet. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has said it does not have the authority to force a hospital to keep a service open. It can send written comments to UMass Memorial within 10 days of receiving the plan, which was dated Aug. 22.

About 150 miles away, another hospital attempting to close a labor and delivery unit is also facing resistance. 

Danbury, Conn.-based Nuvance Health's request to close the Sharon Hospital labor and delivery unit was denied. The state's Office of Health Strategy acknowledged Sharon Hospital's financial losses, but also cited Nuvance's revenue gains and net assets of $1.7 billion for 2021 as a reason to deny the system's request. Nuvance has 21 days to appeal the decision and request an oral argument.

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