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May 30, 2023

UMass Memorial plans closure of Leominster maternity ward amid protests

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

UMass Memorial Health intends to shut down its maternity ward at the HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, Leominster Campus this fall, removing labor and delivery services from the hospital’s services, citing staffing shortages across the healthcare system and a declining number of births in the North Central Massachusetts region.

The planned date for the closure of the unit is Sept. 22, which has been submitted to the Mass. Department of Public Health and is pending regulatory approval, according to a Thursday statement from the hospital.

“In recent years, industry-wide workforce shortages have exacerbated the challenges of fully staffing our maternity inpatient unit consistently at HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, despite our persistent attempts to recruit and retain clinicians in this region. This, along with the steadily declining number of births in North Central Massachusetts, has a significant impact on our unit’s future capacity to provide labor and delivery care to our patients,” Steve Roach, president of UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Clinton Hospital, said in the Thursday statement. 

Patients who want to keep their care within the UMass Memorial system will have to deliver at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, though according to the statement, pre- and postnatal care will continue to be available in Leominster.

The North Central state legislative delegation sees this proposal to shut down the labor and delivery unit as completely unacceptable, according to a Friday statement from the lawmakers.

Calling the decision unjustified, the delegation says one or two births occur daily at the hospital’s labor and delivery unit, servicing more than 500 families per year. The delegation is made up of state Sen. John Cronin (D-Leominster and state representatives Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster), Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden), Meghan Kilcoyne (D-Lancaster), Michael Kushmerek (D-Fitchburg), Margaret Scarsdale (D-Pepperell), and Jonathan Zlotnik (D-Gardner).

“UMass Memorial’s announcement follows an unacceptable pattern of gutting healthcare services in North Central – and two Gateway Cities – of the critical healthcare services we need most,” the legislative delegation wrote in the Friday joint statement. 

Leominster and Fitchburg are two of 26 statewide Gateway Cities, which are midside urban areas facing challenges related to regional economic changes.

Legislators cited the previous closure of the mental health and urgent care services at the hospital’s Fitchburg campus, endoscopy and ambulatory services at Clinton Hospital, and cardiac, pulmonary rehab and inpatient pediatric unit in Leominster as previous blows to the North Central region.

The delegation is hosting a rally on Tuesday to protest the closure. 

“The delegation is ready to engage with Dr. Eric Dickson and UMass Memorial leaders to determine how to maintain maternal healthcare services in the North Central region. No other alternative will be acceptable to the North Central delegation,” said the statement.

Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association labor union are siding with the North Central delegation in assertions that the closure of the unit will have detrimental effects.

“The nurses of Leominster Hospital are outraged by this announcement, as it shows a blatant disregard for our patients and our region,” Miko Nakagawa, a nurse at Leominster Hospital and co-chair of the nurses local bargaining unit with the MNA, said in a Friday press release. “There is no medical or moral justification for this decision, which will have a devastating impact on families, particularly economically disadvantaged residents who lack the ability to travel long distances to receive care in Worcester or Gardner.” 

The North Central delegation said the closure will lead to births occurring in less healthy and safe environments.

“This will result in our most marginalized families without access to reliable transportation forced to deliver babies in the overcrowded Leominster emergency department or on the side of the highway on their way to Gardner or Worcester,” said the delegation’s statement.

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