May 29, 2018

UMass Memorial to close Leominster, Fitchburg services

Photo/Grant Welker
UMass MemorialHealth Care says budgetary constraints have forced closures of services in Clinton, Leominster and Fitchburg.

Worcester-based UMass Memorial Health Care plans to close an inpatient pediatrics unit and a cardiac rehabilitation unit in Leominster and an urgent care center in Fitchburg, it announced Tuesday.

The closures are the result of financial constraints, particularly from low reimbursement payments to the hospital system for Medicaid and Medicare recipients, UMass said in a statement.

No dates have been given for the planned closures, and UMass did not give more information, such as whether there will also be layoffs.

The planned closures appear to still require state Department of Public Health approval.

UMass said the closures are part of a plan to consolidate services and find ways to serve patients more efficiently and cost effectively.

The inpatient pediatric unit at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital's Leominster had been averaging less than one patient a day in its 11-bed unit, UMass said. As part of the closure of that unit, UMass said it will create a pediatric observation unit at the HealthAlliance hospital.

Cardiac services will be shifted with the closure of the cardiac rehab unit in Leominster. Cardiac rehab services will be available at Clinton Hospital and at two other facilities: the Physical Therapy Plus at Whitney Field clinic in Leominster and the Physical Therapy Plus clinic at Orchard Hill in Lancaster.

The urgent care center at UMass' Burbank campus in Fitchburg also had low patient volume, UMass said, with less than half the patients it saw just two years ago. Patients who would visit that facility may instead go to the CareWell/UMass Memorial urgent care center two miles away, it said.

The decision to close the pediatrics unit in particular was criticized by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which said the closure will force ill children to go elsewhere for services.

"We're angry and disappointed that UMass-HealthAlliance would consider abandoning the children of our city and surrounding communities," HealthAlliance nurse Natalie Pereira, the bargaining unit chairwoman of the Massachusetts Nurses Association local bargaining unit on the Leominster campus, said in a statement through the association.

"Every day we see the services available to our local community being eroded or eliminated in the interest of further boosting profits for UMass Memorial Health Care corporate," she said.

The nurses union slammed Tuesday's announcement as part of a larger trend of closures for UMass.

"All of these decisions are typical of a healthcare system increasingly being driven by large nonprofit corporate networks and the growing influence of for profit Wall Street firms that are attempting to consolidate more profitable services in larger urban facilities," the association said, "while cutting access to services in local communities, particularly poorer communities serving marginalized patient populations."

Last month, UMass said it will close Plumley Village Health Services on Belmont Street and shift those services elsewhere. Earlier this year, it also said it planned to eliminate endoscopy services at Clinton Hospital.

Last year, it closed psychiatric beds at its University Campus but is planning a 120-bed psychiatric hospital costing $18 million to $20 million to open in early 2019.

On Tuesday, UMass said the steps are necessary during a difficult budgetary time. The system ran a small operating deficit of 1.2 percent in fiscal 2017, with an 11-percent operating loss at Clinton Hospital. The total profit margin was 1.8 percent, or $11.7 million, according to documents filed with the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis.

"In order for our hospitals to survive in this increasingly challenging healthcare environment," the hospital network said in a statement, "we must respond to the demands of state policy makers and the public – do everything possible to improve quality and reduce our costs."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the pediatrics unit to be closed was at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital's main campus in Clinton. The unit to be closed is in Leominster.


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