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Updated: June 12, 2023 Viewpoint

Viewpoint: Why UMass Memorial needs to close maternity services in Leominster

As medical professionals, we have an obligation to provide appropriate, effective, and equitable care – by us personally and by the hospitals where we provide care. That is why we support the difficult but necessary decision to propose the closure of our inpatient maternity services at HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, Leominster campus, to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. To be clear, this was a clinical decision – one we made after careful consideration and do not take lightly.

A headshot of Tiffany Moore Simas
PHOTO | Courtesy of UMass Memorial Health
Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas is obstetrics and gynecology chair at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

Like other healthcare providers across Mass., we are carefully examining how we deliver care to the patients and communities we serve, as well as determining how to best allocate our resources to support high-risk patients across the region, particularly in light of the impact of pervasive staffing shortages on existing services.

Maternity care is highly specialized and requires continuous and consistent coverage. The advanced nature of these services, combined with existing labor shortages and the steadily declining number of births at the hospital, has heightened the difficulties of staffing this unit. The dedicated teams of maternity care professionals at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital have provided exceptional care for decades, but it is becoming more challenging to consistently sustain the level of care we strive to provide. We are tremendously grateful to our compassionate caregivers who have helped thousands of parents and families navigate the birthing journey and welcome new loved ones into their lives.

A headshot of Dr. Charles Cavagnaro
PHOTO | Courtesy of UMass Memorial Health
Dr. Charles Cavagnaro is chief medical officer at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital.

Patients in North Central Massachusetts will continue to have the option to deliver within the UMass Memorial Health system at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where many from the Leominster area already receive care. In fact, a third of patients from across the region choose to deliver at the Medical Center given the exceptional care provided there. Patients can choose to deliver at one of the many other high-quality hospitals providing obstetrics care in the region. Other local providers offering maternity inpatient services include Heywood Hospital in Gardner, Saint Vincent Hospital’s Center for Women and Infants in Worcester, and Emerson Hospital’s Clough Birthing Center in Concord – all of which are within a 30-minute drive from HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, Leominster Campus. It's worth noting, according to the March of Dimes 2022 “Maternity Care Deserts Report,” Massachusetts is designated as a full access to maternity care state, the highest of its four rankings.

We are working within the UMass Memorial Health system and with community obstetric and pediatric providers to maintain and enhance access to prenatal and postnatal care locally and throughout the region. We are in the process of identifying and evaluating transportation options for patients and loved ones who need maternity inpatient services at the Medical Center or another nearby delivery site.

This proposed unit closure involves a robust and collaborative public process to allow us to address concerns from various community members as plans progress. We look forward to engaging in that process and remaining transparent throughout to make this transition as seamless as possible.

Dr. Charles Cavagnaro is chief medical officer at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital. Dr. Tiffany Moore Simas is obstetrics and gynecology chair at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

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June 23, 2023

There is an earthy phrase I heard once and became fond of: don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

Usage is down and staffing is down because *you decided* to make it so. We all heard from nurses and doctors who told us of hiring freezes, slow-walking of administrative support, and diversion of patients to other locations.

"Just go to Worcester" is perfectly viable for someone like *me*--a middle-class professional with ready access to a reliable vehicle, and a job that I can leave at a moment's notice if my wife goes into labor. But for our low-income residents, "just go to Worcester" is "let them eat cake". They lack reliable transportation, they lack the funds to pay for a cab or ride-share to Worcester, and they will get stuck needing to call an ambulance--which, in addition to any other complications, means that an ambulance is tied up bringing a mother to Worcester and therefore unavailable for other emergencies that may arise.

Do not make this one of those mistakes that only gets taken seriously once a death toll begins to accrue. Because it will. I don't need to be a doctor to know that--I only need to be a person with *basic* common sense and compassion. And we *WILL* lay those deaths at your door.

Yours in anger,
Anthony Zarrella
Fitchburg City Council President

June 19, 2023

I would like to see the transportation plan for patients without cars. They are largely people in lower income brackets for whom taxis are very expensive for locations 30 minutes away. Ambulances are incredibly expensive. This closing disproprtionaly affects poorer people.

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