Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Or in this case, applying some window dressing to the state’s inability to prevent Leominster Hospital’s maternity unit from closing.
That’s all we can take from Gov. Maura Healey’s decision to order reviews of access to maternity care in the Northern Worcester County area, as well as a review of “prenatal, postpartum and birthing services across the state,” now that UMass Memorial Health made good on its vow to shutter that vital service on Sept. 23.
“Our administration is deeply concerned about the Leominster closure and health care access generally across Northern Worcester County. We are committed to ensuring that all Mass. residents have access to high-quality health care, including safe and equitable maternal care,” said Gov. Healey in a statement.
For all those who did their best to forestall or preempt that closure, including everyday citizens, health-care professionals, and members of the Twin Cities’ and Worcester’s Statehouse delegations, the question to Healey should be: why did you wait until after the fact to insert the governor’s office into this crisis?
The above-mentioned groups and many other organizations and coalitions did their best to pressure the state to stop the closing of the maternity ward, right up to that Sept. 23 termination date.
In one last attempt to persuade the governor to intervene, many supporters held a vigil on Sept. 21, to no avail.
Both the statewide and Northern Worcester County reviews must be completed by Nov. 15. In addition to Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh, state Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah and DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein will oversee this process.
These reviews will undoubtedly confirm what the Department of Public Health has already concluded: the maternity unit closure leaves a gaping hole in health-care coverage in the Twin Cities area for expectant and new mothers, especially minorities and those on the lower rung of the economic ladder.
We’ll leave it to Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which has long lobbied the Legislature to give the DPH more authority over medical-services closures, to accurately characterize the governor’s dime-late-and-dollar-short review edict:
“Claiming now that the state will monitor the situation after the closure, to acquiesce to the UMass system which has acted in bad faith throughout this process is akin to saying you will count the bodies on the ground after the plane has crashed — a plane you were warned was unsafe to carry those passengers.”
Ayer chapter fits muddled Mass. migrant story
The state’s seemingly seat-of-the-pants response to simultaneously housing the flood of newly arriving migrants and its existing homeless population has blindsided host communities, leaving them without much of a say in this process.
The town of Ayer’s situation fits an all-too familiar pattern.
The newspaper recently reported that as of a meeting held Sept. 19, Ayer officials were still in the dark about details concerning the state’s arrangement with a private nonprofit to relocate 30 migrant families in a town motel.
All Ayer Town Manager Robert Pontbriand could say with any confidence on that date was that he knew little or nothing about how this all transpired, emphasizing that it remains a “fluid process.”
It seems the town of Ayer was notified – told — on Sept. 8 that the state had partnered with Fitchburg-based Making Opportunity Count (MOC) to house migrant families in an Ayer motel, releasing a public notice days later.
The shelter stems from the emergency declaration made previously by the governor, in accordance with the state’s right-to-shelter law. Pontbriand said the number of families equals approximately 150 people, and in response to residents asking if the town is funding the shelter, the town manager said it’s not.
“We’re really trying to stress that it is on the state and federal level; we happen to be, for lack of a better term, the host community,” said Pontbriand. “The motel is a private entity that has contracted with the state, which is contracted with the nonprofit to administer.”
Given that Gov. Healey has already publicly vented her frustration about the lack of federal financial support in sheltering this ever-increasing migrant population, we’d advise the town manager to tone down expectations of any aid from Washington.
And while Ayer might not be directly supplying funding at this point – pending possible education costs – the town has taken preemptive steps it otherwise wouldn’t have taken in anticipation of these new arrivals.
Since the town was notified about the migrant shelter, town departments have been working to prepare.
“The town’s inspectional staff; building, fire, Board of Health have done their inspections. There were some issues that MOC and the state are addressing to ensure everybody’s safety,” Pontbriand said.
It’s now Ayer’s responsibility – through its police and fire departments – to maintain that additional public safety.
All 80 of the state’s designated shelter communities could probably share similar stories, chapters of a repeating theme that still remain to be written.