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Steward closes maternity unit at Massachusetts hospital over staffing disagreement with Partners HealthCare

Boston-based Steward Health Care shuttered the labor and delivery unit at Morton Hospital, a 125-bed facility in Taunton, Mass., alleging the Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital and its parent company Boston-based Partners HealthCare, which staff the department, are no longer sending enough physicians to tend to patients, according to The Boston Globe.

Steward reportedly maintains a staffing contract with MGH and Partners HealthCare. Under the contract, MGH physicians provide services at Morton Hospital's labor and delivery department, which delivers an estimated 325 babies per year, the report states.

Steward officials told The Boston Globe Tuesday MGH and Partners are no longer sending enough physicians to Morton Hospital. Because of the lack of neonatal specialists in the building, officials contend it is unsafe for staff to keep delivering babies at the hospital, according to the report.

"It has become evident that Partners could not staff our unit," Joseph M. Weinstein, MD, CMO at Steward Health Care, told The Boston Globe Tuesday. "We have worked tirelessly to try to staff it. ... Partners left us with no options other than to close the unit."

Robert E. Kleinman, MD, physician-in-chief of Boston-based MassGeneral Hospital for Children, told Becker's Hospital Review via email Wednesday, "After an extensive review of the program, MassGeneral Hospital for Children has determined that the extremely low volume of deliveries in Morton Hospital’s obstetrics program, which averages fewer than one per day, is a significant impediment to maintaining core maternal and neonatal clinical competencies needed to safeguard mothers and infants."

"These competencies, which include neonatal resuscitation and intubation, are critical benchmarks that ensure care meets the highest standards of quality and safety, and are readily available in other Taunton-area hospitals' higher volume obstetrical services. Therefore, MGHfC can no longer guarantee consistent, round-the-clock neonatal hospitalist services to Morton Hospital," Dr. Kleinman added.

Steward officials reportedly told the Massachusetts Department of Health they planned to close the maternity unit last week. Officials claimed they had initially planned to shutter the unit for two weeks in November, but eventually decided to permanently close the department, the report states.

It is unclear if job cuts will occur as a result of the closure.

However, the state DOH said Steward closed the unit before completing the proper regulatory process and will be fined if maternity services do not resume before Nov. 27, according to the report.

"As always, the health and safety of patients is our primary concern, and ... we will review the proposed closure to ensure that measures are put in place to minimize the impact on the community and maintain the highest levels of quality, safety and patient care,” a spokesperson for the state DOH told The Boston Globe via email Tuesday.

Editor's note: Becker's Hospital Review reached out to Steward Health Care for comment and will update the article as more information becomes available.

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