Following Steward Healthcare’s closures of two local ICUs just prior to the surge of COVID-19 patients into area hospitals, the local communities near Nashoba Valley Medical Center (NVMC), as well as nurses from Steward Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, have scheduled separate but simultaneous events that will call on Steward Healthcare to reopen the intensive care units (ICUs) at both facilities.
Both ICUs were discretely and unexpectedly closed on April 2 (NVMC) and April 3 (Holy Family) and, as a result, the communities the hospitals serve have been left without desperately needed local ICU services for the care of their most critically ill patients — and at a time when they have never been needed more. Nurses caring for those with COVID-19 know that patients’ conditions can change rapidly and severely, making ready access to ICU-level care critical to providing life-saving treatment.
The May 14 events include:
Ayer Event: The “Community Cares Car Rally” calling on Steward Nashoba Valley Medical Center to reopen its intensive care unit.
Date: Thursday, May 14
Time: 2 p.m., with one lead car setting the course and all others following
Where: Starting at the parking lot of Brighter Horizons Environmental, located at 201 West Main St.; the caravan will then traverse along Main St. in downtown Ayer and past the hospital
Local community members, patients, legislators, firefighters, business owners, neighbors, EMTs, paramedics, nurses, and other hospital workers — all of them worried about the lack of local ICU services in the middle of a global pandemic — will roll through Ayer in their individual cars, each decorated with signs calling on Steward to do what is right and reopen the ICU at NVMC.
The ICU closure, which occurred on April 2, has worried the community for weeks now, especially given that COVID-19 has greatly affected the residents of a nearby nursing home.
“We are a small community that is close knit and connected,” said Calvin Moore, owner of The Billiard’s Café in Ayer and a strong supporter of the rolling rally. “The closure of the ICU at NVMC jeopardizes the safety of our families, friends, and neighbors. It is wrong, and Steward needs to make it right.”
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who plans on taking part in Thursday’s rally, expressed similar concerns. “The closure of the intensive care unit at Nashoba Valley Medical Center is a deeply disturbing, immoral, and dangerous action by the for-profit Steward Healthcare at a time when Nashoba Valley residents need intensive care the most, living in a region with a number of COVID-19 hotspots,” he said. “As the State Senator for Ayer, Devens, Shirley, and Littleton, I support those in our community who have organized this car rally to re-open the ICU, and the nurses, physicians and patients who have been negatively impacted by this decision, and I'll be joining the procession in my car.”
“Now is not the time to limit access to health services,” added Congresswoman Lori Trahan,”(D-Lowell) of the 3rd Massachusetts Congressional District. “Every person deserves to know that they will be able to get urgent treatment at their local hospital, even during this crisis. I stand with these incredible nurses who are doing everything they can to ensure their community has access to the essential care they need during this difficult time.”
“I am so grateful that so many members of the community are taking this so seriously and supporting our nurses,” said 1st Middlesex District State Representative, Sheila Harrington (R-Groton). “In supporting our nurses, you are supporting our community because they are the ones keeping us safe and healthy all year long, but especially when we are facing critical health issues. Steward Healthcare has greatly disappointed me. In doing so, they have also violated the code of Massachusetts regulation by not following the required regulations in closing an important unit like the NVMC ICU.”
“I am so proud to stand with the nurses at Nashoba Valley Medical Center, and the residents of Ayer, Shirley, Devens, and Harvard, to advocate for Steward Healthcare to re-open the ICU at NVMC," said Danillo "Dan" Sena (D-Acton), candidate for the 37th Middlesex District State Representative seat. "I am very concerned that Nashoba Valley residents who may need critical medical care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, do not have access to the ICU at NVMC. I support the community's car rally on Thursday.”
The NVMC nurses, who are also members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, plan to launch an online community petition that will provide concerned citizens with the opportunity to join in demanding that the hospital immediately reopen its ICU.
“The ICU may be closed, but the rest of the hospital is open,” said Fran Karaska, RN and co-chairperson of the MNA bargaining unit at NVMC. “During this pandemic our nurses continue to provide the highest level of care to patients who are admitted or receiving care elsewhere in the hospital. But this community needs and deserves a full-service hospital, and that means reopening the ICU.”
Haverhill Event: Delivery by MNA nurses at Steward Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill of the hospital-wide petitions that call on Steward management to immediately reopen the ICU.
Date: Thursday, May 14
Time: 2 p.m.
Where: A small group of MNA nurse leaders will gather, at a safe distance, in front of the emergency room at Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill to speak with media; they will then deliver the petitions to hospital CEO Craig Jesiolowski.
The communities surrounding Haverhill, whose residents depend on Steward Holy Family Hospital for care, have been without a local ICU since April 3, when Steward abruptly closed the unit. Similar to what happened at NVMC, the community and staff were given no notice and were left with no local options for ICU care.
Soon after the closure, a petition was circulated that has since been signed by registered nurses, nursing assistants, housekeepers, mental health coordinators, security, kitchen staff, nurse practitioners, social workers, doctors, and members of the community. The petition reads:
“We, staff members of Holy Family Hospital Haverhill, thank and applaud all the Haverhill ICU staff who have been working elsewhere since our ICU was shut down on April 3, and we look forward to having you back and having our ICU reopened as soon as possible!”