LEOMINSTER — With the closure of the maternity ward now passing, Gov. Maura Healey has ordered two specific reviews to be completed by November that will look at access to maternity care in the Northern Worcester County area as well as a review of “prenatal, postpartum and birthing services across the state.”
“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. “That’s why I’m ordering a review of maternal health services across the state, and a review of essential health services in the Northern Worcester County area following the closure of the UMass Memorial Leominster maternity unit.”
The order comes after UMass Memorial Health Care confirmed to the Department of Public Health (DPH) that it could not delay the closure of the obstetrics inpatient service at its Leominster campus due to unsafe staffing shortages, despite state efforts to delay the closure, according to Gov. Healey.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association, the city of Leominster, the North Central Mass. and Worcester legislative delegations, and many other organizations and coalitions have continued to request that the state intervene and stop the closing of the maternity ward. On Thursday, Sept. 21, many held a vigil to try to provide a show of support and asked that the governor assist.
One state official commented on the upcoming reviews and the difficulties ahead.
“We know that there is much work to be done to address racial and regional inequities in maternity care and health care across the state. We are committed to reviewing all of the factors impacting health equity, including maternal care, to improve health outcomes,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh, who is among the three state department heads running the reviews. “This review process will help guide policy decisions as we work to improve the health equity and outcomes for all people across the state.”
In regard to both the statewide and the Northern Worcester County review, the governor said both must be completed by Nov. 15, 2023. In addition to Walsh, state Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah and DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein will be handling the reviews.
UMass Memorial Health released a statement commenting on the difficulty of the decision but the necessity to carry it out.
“I know this has been a very difficult journey for our caregivers — both at HA-C and at the Medical Center — as well as for our patients and the communities we have pledged to serve. Closing a service that has been a part of the fabric of the community isn’t easy — in fact, it’s heartbreaking,” said Dr. Eric Dickson, MD, President and CEO of UMass Memorial Health, in a statement. “Keeping a birthing center open without adequate obstetrical coverage is not in the best interest of our patients and is something we are not willing to do, regardless of the political pressure and damaging headlines. Sometimes the right thing to do — and I know this is the right decision for our patients — is the harder thing to do.”
The Massachusetts Nurses Association made an official response to the news of the continued closure.
“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,” said Katie Murphy. “We are deeply disappointed that the governor and her administration has failed to intervene to protect the most vulnerable mothers and newborns throughout all of Worcester County.”