January 9, 2019

Harrington Hospital closing pediatric unit

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Harrington Hospital is closing its inpatient pediatric unit after patient volume fell to just 1.5 patients a day during the past year.

Harrington Hospital will close its inpatient pediatric unit at the end of March due to a low patient volume.

The Southbridge hospital will eliminate the 11-bed unit and instead transfer children who need to be admitted to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. Harrington reached a similar agreement with UMass Memorial when it closed its birthing center in 2017.

Patient volume has gotten so low at Harrington's pediatric unit that just 1.5 patients a day were passing through during the past year, the hospital said. In an effort to use the space and staffing more efficiently, a portion of the unit has been used for post-surgical patient recovery three days a week over the past 10 months, the hospital said.

The hospital's pediatric unit was staffed by nine full-time-equivalent workers. The hospital filed a notice of impending layoffs with the state last week under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act that requires advance notice to help with job search or retraining efforts.

Such challenges are not unique to Harrington, the hospital said. Only 13 hospitals in Massachusetts now have dedicated inpatient pediatric units, and more than two dozen have closed their pediatric inpatient services, according to Harrington.

Pediatric patients who need to be admitted will be transferred to UMass Memorial in Worcester. Children will be able to be treated at Harrington's emergency departments in Southbridge and Webster.

Harrington said it will continue to care for pediatric patients in outpatient settings, including imaging, lab, primary care, behavioral health and physical therapy.

The hospital's pediatric unit had a large Medicaid population that accounted for three-fourths of its discharges over the past year, Harrington said. The hospital said it will consider whether the unit's beds will continue to be offered for ambulatory or other patient needs.

When Harrington announced it would close its birthing center in 2017, it cited staffing difficulties, low birth volume, and a $3 million to $4 million cost of staffing the unit as reasons for its closure.

Harrington ran a $9.3 million profit in fiscal 2017, the most recent year available, for a operating profit margin of 3.2 percent, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis.

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