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August 23, 2023

UMass Memorial responds to DPH concerns over Leominster maternity closure

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

In order to preserve access to care for patients as it intends to move forward in closing its maternity ward in Leominster, UMass Memorial Health in Worcester has released its plan, relying on other health centers, public transit, and ambulances.

The release of the plan was required after the Mass. Department of Public Health deemed the maternity ward at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, Leominster Campus an essential service for the people of north Worcester County.

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

The plan is required to sufficiently ensure access to transportation, including during labor, and a protocol for how patients will be referred to other hospitals, as well as assurances there will be no continued cutbacks at the Leominster hospital.

DPH has 10 days to respond to UMass Memorial’s plan, which it received Tuesday, to determine if it meets the requirements of continuing sufficient access to care, said David Schildmeier, director of public communications at the Massachusetts Nurses Association labor union, which opposes the closure.

“The Hospital made this decision after investing significant resources and efforts to try to maintain the Services. Despite this difficult and necessary decision, we want to assure the Department and the community that prenatal and postpartum services will continue to be provided in the community, the Hospital is providing additional resources and training to enhance healthcare services in the service area, and the Hospital is developing a transportation plan to help those patients who do not have access to private transportation to delivery sites,” says the letter from UMass Memorial Health to the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality at DPH.

The hospital continues to cite staffing challenges and has not altered its intent to close the ward on Sept. 23. 

According to the UMass Memorial Health plan in the letter, there is sufficient capacity at neighboring centers including UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester and UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, Clinton Campus to accommodate those in the Leominster area. 

Using data from Mapquest, the healthcare system determined that travel times will not be significantly increased for most patients in the area. It plans to implement non-emergency transportation provided by Montachusett Regional Transit Authority to alternate maternity care facilities and is continuing to conduct assessments. Emergency transportation will require an ambulance call, according to the letter. Access to pre- and postnatal care is unchanged, according to the letter.

Community advocates pushed back against the plan, asserting it is inadequate and will harm vulnerable populations in the area. 

“In fact, their only plan is force mothers, particularly poor and those of color who are placed most at risk by this closure, to rely on nonexistent public transportation or to call 911 for an ambulance so that they can deliver enroute on the side of the road, or in an overcrowded hospital emergency room -- or to die trying.  It is heartless and it is absurd,” Eladia Romero, a board member of the Spanish American Center in Leominster and co-chair of the Community United to Save Our Birthing Center Coalition, a delegation formed to oppose the closure, said in a Wednesday press release.

The coalition called on the Gov. Maura Healey Administration to require the hospital system to keep the ward open. 

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