What: Candlelight vigil mourning Southcoast Hospitals Group’s decision to close the maternity unit at Wareham’s Tobey Hospital
Where: 43 High Street, Wareham
When: Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m.
Who: Tobey Hospital maternity RNs and their friends, families, neighbors, and supporters
WAREHAM, Mass Ì¶ Nurses who work at Tobey Hospital and who are members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association will hold a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. at 43 High St. in Wareham, in front of the hospital, to mourn Southcoast Hospitals Group’s decision to shutter Tobey’s maternity unit on December 31. After December 31, would-be Tobey maternity patients will be directed to St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford.
Religious leaders, former patients, neighbors, friends, and supporters are expected to join in the vigil.
Southcoast announced its plans to close the maternity unit in late August and, since then, the local community has pushed back hard against the closure — doing everything from flooding the required Department of Public Health (DPH) hearing about the closure on Oct. 23 and offering hours of testimonials, to gathering nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition to save the unit. Additionally, past patients and expectant moms have written countless emails and letters decrying the closure plans to both local media outlets and Southcoast’s CEO Keith Hovan, whose own children were born at Tobey’s highly esteemed maternity unit.
In early November, in response to the public hearing, the DPH notified Southcoast that Tobey’s maternity unit was an essential service (related letter available here). The DPH decision is not legally binding however and, after submitting the required response-paperwork (available for review here), [JJ1] [MS2] Southcoast opted to charge ahead with its short-sighted closure plans.
Tobey’s maternity unit, which is officially known as the Family Centered Unit or the Makepeace Center, has some of the best birth outcomes in the state and is held in high regard for being part of the “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.” This initiative emphasizes rooming in, immediate skin-to-skin contact, and supporting a mother's personal feeding choice with education and instruction. Although Southcoast-owned St. Luke’s in New Bedford has the same designation, it is really known for its care of high-risk mothers and babies. Additionally, St. Luke’s has been chronically understaffed and would currently struggle to accommodate an influx of new patients from Tobey.
Concerned patients and advocates say Southcoast’s decision comes with additional risks, especially given that nearly all the communities that neighbor Tobey are currently without maternity services — primarily because other hospitals have already closed their maternity units, including Morton Hospital in Taunton. This has created what local healthcare advocates are calling a “maternity-care desert for expectant mothers.”
Nurses working in the maternity unit at Brockton Hospital have recently reported spikes in patient census and, as a result, have had difficulty maintaining safe nurse-staffing levels. Meanwhile, Good Samaritan Hospital has had difficulty retaining obstetricians.
The MNA has been tracking an increase in the closure of maternity and other services across the state. As hospitals have consolidated into massive corporate networks, there has been a move to close local services and force patients into accessing care at larger hospitals farther away — a change that is especially difficult for low-income patients and their families.
The MNA has filed legislation to strengthen the Commonwealth’s law related to hospital closures. An Act Relative to the Closing of Hospital Essential Services (S. 672/H. 1139), sponsored by Senator Julian Cyr and Representative Ed Coppinger will:
- Extend the official notice period to the DPH in advance of a closure or discontinuation of health services.
- Require any hospital proposing closure or discontinuation of health services to provide evidence of having notified and provided the opportunity for comment from affected municipalities before the notification period begins.
- Instruct the Attorney General to seek an injunction to maintain the essential services for the duration of the notice period.
- Prohibit the hospital from eligibility for an application for licensure or expansion for a period of three years from the date the service is discontinued, or until the essential health service is restored, or until such time as the DPH is satisfied with a modified plan.
“Losing this unit will rip open the fabric of our local healthcare safety net,” said Sharon Miksch, a Tobey RN and chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit, of the looming closure. “There will be a gap in care, and too many people will fall into that gap: mothers, babies, and families. And, in the end, whole communities will suffer because that gap will never be repaired.”
For complete background on the fight to save Tobey’s maternity unit visit https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11459 and https://www.massnurses.org/news-and-events/p/openItem/11476.