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State: Clinton Hospital’s Pediatric Service Necessary

August 21, 2018

LEOMINSTER -- The state’s Department of Public Health has determined that the inpatient pediatric unit at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital, which the hospital is planning to close, is a “necessary” service.

An Aug. 16 letter from state health officials regarding their decision was posted online by state Sen. Dean Tran and state Rep. Natalie Higgins Monday afternoon.

Though the Department of Public Health cannot legally prohibit the hospital from closing the inpatient pediatric unit, it has required UMass Memorial Health Care submit a plan proving patients living near the hospital will still have access to alternative medical services if the unit does close, according to the DPH letter that was sent to Andrew S. Levine, an attorney representing UMass Memorial Health Care.

Though she said she was not surprised the state found the inpatient pediatrics unit was an essential service, Higgins noted that she was not optimistic that the state’s finding would have any impact on the hospital’s decision to close the unit.

“I don’t think it’s going to sway them. UMass’s medical system has already done a number of closures in the last few years,” she said.

Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale voiced a similar outlook.

“Certainly, I see them finding this to be an essential service as a positive, but I’m not sure how much of an impact it’s going to have,” he said. “I understand corporate decisions are made based on what the ledger books say, but I’m certainly opposed to any of these closures.”

According to the Aug. 16 letter, the hospital needs to submit a plan outlining alternative local care providers as well as estimates of how long it would likely take patients to travel to them.

State officials have also asked for additional information on how Leominster’s emergency department -- which HealthAlliance’s administrators have said will handle patients that would have normally been treated at the inpatient pediatric unit -- will be able to meet the needs of pediatric patients.

DPH’s decision was based on public testimonies provided by local residents and elected officials at a forum held on the proposed closures on Aug. 1.

Several issues raised by the public at the forum, including the issues of how long it will take patients to travel to alternative care providers and whether the hospital already closed the unit in April, prompted state officials to ask the hospital for further information.

The hospital has been asked to outline what alternative forms of transportation are available to patients and what the associated costs of using these forms of transportation would be. The state has also asked that the hospital prove it has not already closed its inpatient pediatrics unit.

Upon announcing its closure plans earlier this year, HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital said the decision was motivated by low patient volumes in several services offered in Leominster and Fitchburg.

In addition to the inpatient pediatric unit, UMass Memorial Health Care is also planning to close the urgent care center at its Burbank Campus in Fitchburg, as well as its cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation units in Leominster. The Department of Public Health’s rulings on these closure have yet to be released to the public.

In a statement released Tuesday, HealthAlliance Clinton Hospital said emergency care will continue to be offered to pediatric patients in Leominster and that on-site pediatric hospitalist physicians will remain on staff.

“The mission of UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital has not changed. We exist to serve as many people as possible and we believe these moves are necessary in the long-term best interest of the hospital and community,” hospital spokesman Tony Berry wrote. “We are working to assure the Department of Public Health and more importantly the members of our community that we have the right plan in place to take care for our patients now and in the future.”

UMass Memorial Health Care has until Aug. 31 to submit the information requested by the Department of Public Health.

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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