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May 21, 2024

Ombudsman appointed to supervise patient care among Steward hospitals

A brick building with "Nashoba Valley Medical Center" printed on the sign along a concrete driveway. Photo | File Nashoba Valley Medical Center

A senior living facility owner and health care management consultant has been appointed through U.S. Bankruptcy Court to monitor patient care at Steward Health Care facilities in Massachusetts and report immediately to the court if she determines that the quality of care is "declining significantly or is otherwise being materially compromised" as the system goes through bankruptcy restructuring.

Suzanne Koenig is president and founder of SAK Management Services and "provides a highly specialized combination of skills in the areas of operations improvement, staff development and quality assurance," according to her website. She was appointed by Kevin Epstein, the U.S. Trustee for the Southern District of Texas, to serve as ombudsman monitoring Steward's hospitals and health care facilities in Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Steward Health Care owns Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer.

Epstein's filing Monday said that Koenig is to "monitor the quality of patient care provided to patients of the debtor, to the extent necessary under the circumstances, including interviewing patients and physicians," "report to the court ... regarding the quality of patient care provided to patients of the debtor" within 60 days, and immediately inform the court if she "determines that the quality of patient care provided to patients of the debtor is declining significantly or is otherwise being materially compromised."

The Department of Public Health has had monitors closely watching for staffing, capacity or other issues at Steward's hospitals since the system's financial situation attracted attention earlier this year. Since Steward filed for bankruptcy in Texas on May 6, Gov. Maura Healey and others have sought to make clear that the legal proceeding does not necessarily mean that anything has changed for patients, urging people to keep their appointments at Steward facilities and encouraging residents to seek emergency care at Steward hospitals without reservation.

"Based on the findings of the Department’s monitoring, it has become clear that Steward’s fiscal challenges have already presented patient safety and health challenges, which to date have been isolated, and DPH has been able to detect and remediate quickly. These challenges include maintaining the physical premises (e.g., fire safety equipment) as well as critical supplies and equipment," DPH Commissioner Robbie Goldstein wrote in a filing in the bankruptcy case. "For the most part, the cause of any issues the monitors have identified is lack of funding made available to the hospitals from the Steward corporate level."

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