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September 1, 2023

DPH rejects UMass Memorial plan, delays closure of Leominster maternity ward

PHOTO | Courtesy Google Maps UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital in Leominster

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Friday rejected UMass Memorial Health’s proposed plan on how to provide essential maternity service in North Central Massachusetts following its planned closure of the Leominster maternity ward. 

Due to the deficiencies in the proposed plan, the hospital is not permitted to close the ward on the planned date of Sept. 23. 

UMass Memorial has a 10-day window to respond to the DPH concerns, as well as propose a later date for intended closure should a subsequent plan be deemed adequate. 

The plan was rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence the closure would not interrupt care for individuals who would otherwise give birth at the hospital. The Worcester-based hospital system was required to provide a plan to ensure continued access to care after the closure when DPH deemed it an essential service.

[Related: The high cost of delivering babies: Leominster maternity center battle part of national struggle]

In response to UMass Memorial’s assurance of continued access to transportation, Stephen Davis, DPH division director wrote in a Sept. 1 letter: 

“The Department is concerned that a plan to meet the transportation needs of the patients in the Hospital’s service area post discontinuance of the Service has not been developed fully and provided to the Department, and from the Hospital’s August 22, 2023 letter it does not appear the complete plan would be available for Department review prior to the indicated closure date of September 23, 2023,” Davis wrote.

The letter requested more information from UMass Memorial related to emergency room volume, its meetings with Central Massachusetts Emergency Medical Systems Corporation, and plans for transferring patients who are in labor.

The letter indicated that DPH has concerns that an assessment at the hospital in partnership with Boston-based Health Resources in Action, a healthcare consulting agency, was not completed to satisfaction.

“Based upon comments received at the time of public hearing and the lack of a plan to address this feedback, the Department is extremely concerned that this level of assessment was not completed prior to the decision to discontinue the Service at the Hospital and requests the assessment and related access plan be completed and submitted to the Department prior to closure,” said the letter.

Since the plan to close the ward was announced in May, community advocates have been staunchly opposed

“We thank the Department of Public Health for taking the full development of a plan seriously and for looking out for the most vulnerable in our community. Their response today solidifies that the hospital was supposed to submit a plan, not a plan to complete a plan,” Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said in a Friday press release from the office.

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