Massachusetts lawmaker requests emergency public hearing on Saint Vincent Hospital service closures

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Massachusetts state Rep. David LeBoeuf is calling for an emergency public hearing regarding service closures at Worcester, Mass.-based Saint Vincent Hospital, where nurses have been on strike for more than eight months. Hospital officials, however, say a hearing isn't necessary.

In a letter dated Nov. 4 sent to Marylou Sudders, secretary of health and human services for Massachusetts, Mr. LeBoeuf expresses concern about how service closures are affecting community members and public health.

"On Aug. 2, Saint Vincent Hospital and their Dallas based parent company Tenet Healthcare made the decision to close nearly 100 beds and key services that are vital to the safety of our community," his letter begins. "This reckless decision continues to have a dramatic impact on the health and safety of all the residents of Central Mass as we continue to confront the fallout from the spread of the delta variant and the COVID-19 pandemic."

Mr. LeBoeuf specifically points to the decision to close psychiatric beds at Saint Vincent and relocate behavioral health services, calling it "a direct afront on our most vulnerable communities."

He asked Ms. Sudders to require that Saint Vincent hold a determination of need public hearing so that the public can weigh in on the service closures, and so that more information will come to light as far the rationale for the closures.

"I am urging you to call an emergency hearing so this can all be brought out into the open and the public can finally have their say," his letter concluded.

Mr. LeBoeuf's letter comes amid a strike at Saint Vincent by members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. During the strike, which began March 8, Saint Vincent reduced services and hired permanent replacement nurses.

The primary remaining issue being their demand to return to work in their previous roles. 

The hospital said all striking nurses who want to return to work will have a job to go back to, and it estimates that 85 percent of nurses will get to return to their former positions.

But the union has called the hospital's back-to-work provision unfair to nurses and said the hospital's "replacement of highly skilled nurses with lesser qualified staff would undermine all the patient safety gains the parties had negotiated."

The union also is demanding that complaints filed against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board — including one over the hospital's Oct. 17 decision to implement its "last, best and final offer" in negotiations — be resolved as a part of any deal to return to work.  

In response to Mr. LeBoeuf's letter, the hospital issued a statement Nov. 9 saying the determination of need process only applies to permanent closures, and actions at Saint Vincent are temporary and have preserved the ability to keep core services open during the walkout.

"We are prepared to reopen services when staffing is available, or when the strike is over," the statement reads. 

Saint Vincent also said the hospital is constantly in contact with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which is aware of the situation at the hospital.

According to Massachusetts hospital licensure regulations, a licensed hospital may remove beds from service temporarily but must notify the Department of Health in writing if the facility plans to remove beds from service for more than six months. Saint Vincent had not provided such notice as of Nov. 10. The notice is required at least 30 days prior to such removal.

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