Lack of Notice and Outreach to Communities and Advocates on This Issue Call into Question the State’s True Commitment to Addressing a Growing Crisis for the Most Vulnerable Mothers and Newborns in Our State
MNA Calls on Administration to Work with All Stakeholders to Develop a Legitimate Process to Address a Growing Maternal Child Health Crisis in the Commonwealth
We wanted MNA members and our allies to be aware of a series of so-called “listening sessions” the Governor’s office has scheduled for tonight and next week on the issue of access to essential maternal child health services. The notice of all these sessions was just advertised by the state less than 24 hours ago, as we are heading into a weekend with no advertising to the general public, and no concerted outreach to existing community coalitions, advocates or legislators who have been actively involved in efforts to address the loss of 11 maternity programs in recent years, each of which have already been deemed essential by the Department of Public Health to preserving access to maternity services in those communities. The full list of sessions can be found here.
These sessions were scheduled as part of an effort by the state to develop a report on this issue following the recent closure of the Birthing Center at Leominster Hospital, a service that generated overwhelming community and legislative support, extensive media coverage, and a strong declaration by the DPH that this was indeed an essential service, issuing two letters where they called for the provider, UMass Memorial Health, to stop or postpone this dangerous closure. After advocates appealed to the Governor to stop the closure, and after she publicly stated that she was considering such a decision, the DPH cited its lack of legal authority to stop the closure, causing the Governor to instead order two studies of maternal health care statewide and essential services in North Central Mass to be completed by November 15th.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Administration has provided such short notice to participants regarding the Maternal Health Listening Sessions. This is not a process designed to gather substantive feedback,” said Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. “This is a vitally important issue and should get the time and attention it deserves – not this hastily put together process with no advance notice.”
Given the lack of notice and community outreach provided by the administration, the MNA believes this process in a sham that calls into question the validity of the administration’s true commitment to addressing a growing maternal-child health crisis in our state, one the DPH cited as leading to a dramatic increase maternal child health complications and deaths, particularly for BIPOC communities throughout the Commonwealth.
While our members and other advocates are free to testify at these hearings, the MNA calls on the Governor to work with the DPH and EOHHS to coordinate with all key stakeholders and advocates to engage in a truly legitimate process to evaluate this issue, the need for services, and a real plan to address this crisis – which we believe necessitates the reopening of the Birthing Center, and other essential services to protect the public. Those who wish to testify can register here.
Background on Closure of Maternity Services and Impact on Communities
Since 2010, 11 maternal health units have closed across the state.
Hundreds of citizens have turned out across the Commonwealth over the past several years to oppose maternal health closings across the state. In each case, the state’s Department of Public Health deemed the maternal health services “services are necessary for preserving access and health status within the service area”. Despite this, in every care the services were closed, leaving the communities without proper access and an inability to maintain the health status of community members.
These closures are happening when we know:
- non-Hispanic Black women are 3.3 times likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause compared to non-Hispanic white women;
- minorities/people of color, indigenous people and individuals in vulnerable communities have greater difficulty accessing needed healthcare services;
- women in low-income communities and communities of color are having to travel longer and further distances to access maternity care following a slate of closures over the past decade.
A report released last year by the Commonwealth’s Special Commission on Maternal Health on Racial Inequities in Maternal Health found “closures of health facilities are furthering inequitable access to healthcare across the spectrum of pregnancy”.
The Healey-Driscoll Administration should review all the testimony on record with the DPH along with all DPH findings associated with maternal health closures since 2010. It should also actively engage community groups, stakeholders, and maternal healthcare providers outside of these listening sessions.
Additionally, since March 2023, the Massachusetts Nurses Association has requested a meeting with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to discuss maternal health services along with several other pressing public health issues but DPH has yet to schedule such a meeting.
There are several bills filed with the legislature to address the flawed essential services process:
- An Act Relative to the Closing of Hospital Essential Services
Senator Julian Cyr/Representative Ed Coppinger S.736/H.1175
- An Act Assessing Healthcare Access Senator Jake Oliveira/Representative Ted Philips S.1450/H.2251
- An Act Preserving Access to Hospital Services Senator Paul Mark/Representative Pete Capano S.1406/H.2143
We strongly encourage the Healey-Driscoll Administration to look at a comprehensive overhaul of the essential services process with an eye towards preserving services.