On February 29, Care New England (CNE) announced a restructuring at Pawtucket’s Memorial Hospital that includes closing its ICU and obstetrics unit and sending those services to CNE-owned Kent and Women & Infants hospitals. As part of its announcement, CNE told staff and patients the obstetrics unit would deliver its last baby on March 10 and close on March 14, despite not receiving approval on their reversal of need application from the Department of Health. As we go to press, the DOH still has not approved the reversal of need application, a requirement before a hospital can reduce services. Public hearings were scheduled and will have taken place by the time this issue hits the streets.
It typically takes an obstetrician or midwife about one month to receive the right to practice at a new hospital; Care New England gave Memorial’s obstetrics patients 10 days’ notice before the closure. This left many women spending their last days of pregnancy not only finding a new place to give birth, but a new caregiver to help them do so. It left mothers planning a homebirth in a similar situation. Homebirth midwives can provide care at Memorial, but without privileges at another hospital, a homebirth midwife transferring a patient has no choice but to bring her to a hospital and leave her in the hands of another caregiver.
So why the rush? Representatives from Care New England said Memorial was experiencing losses of $3 million a month in the last quarter of 2015. Despite these financial difficulties, Care New England and Massachusetts-based Southcoast Health have been in merger discussions since November 2015, and as recently as March 3, executives from both networks said they expect an agreement to be finalized within weeks.
The Nurses Union says the planned closure put CNE in violation of the agreement it signed when it purchased Memorial, and the Coalition to Save Memorial Hospital Birthing Center states that, “Institutions [other than Memorial] … do not fill the gap the Birthing Center closure would create.” Angelleen Peters-Lewis, system chief nursing officer at CNE suggested Kent as an appropriate alternative for women who want to give birth in a community hospital. However, her statement failed to respond to the Coalition’s main concerns.
Memorial Hospital fulfills two unique roles: It provides high-quality, evidence-based care to the impoverished and under-served families in Pawtucket and Central Falls and it provides a safe, nurturing and respectful place for women who choose natural childbirth – each birth experience involves a conversation, not a mandated set of rules.Options like the gentle Cesaerian and intermittent fetal monitoring, as well as open acceptance of unmedicated birth may become much harder to access in our area. This is what protesters are fighting for.
On March 8, CNE began telling patients that it will adhere to state law and delay closure of its obstetrics unit until the public hearings take place and the DOH makes its decision. It also plans to expedite the process of giving Memorial doctors privileges at other CNE hospitals. In the meantime, the network has said – on multiple occasions – that it’s willing to discuss the community’s concerns. But Coalition sources say they have yet to hear from CNE or receive responses to their overtures.
The Nurses Union and the Coalition continue to protest the closure. On March 10, following a rally outside Care New England headquarters that comprised concerned nurses, midwives, doulas and families, a petition with more than 3,000 signatures was delivered to CNE CEO, Dennis Keefe. He responded to the petition by writing, in part, “… once we receive approval from the state, we are prepared to transfer inpatient obstetrical services to Women & Infants and Kent hospitals…”