Greenfield hospital president says his institution is changing, not ‘dying’
GREENFIELD — A shift in medical services from Greenfield to Springfield is not a statement of diminishing quality of Baystate Franklin Medical Center but rather part of a larger health care trend, argued hospital president Chuck Gijanto Thursday.
Gijanto, countering arguments made at a Wednesday night forum organized by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said that community hospitals across the state are not seeing a growth in their inpatient numbers — people who stay for more than 24 hours. Nor should they expect to, he said, as technology improvements and better coordinated care are focusing on minimizing or eliminating patients’ stays.
Some specific medical services, like neurosurgery or cancer treatments, never have and never will be offered at community hospitals, said Gijanto. The local hospital’s affiliation with Baystate Health has enabled people to stay in western Massachusetts for their services, rather than travel east.
And so Gijanto brushed aside remarks made at Wednesday’s forum that suggested the Greenfield hospital, which has been owned by the Baystate Health corporation since 1986, is slowly dying.
“The shift in medicine is to keep people out of the hospital and go to a more ambulatory basis, more outpatient. That’s what we’re preparing ourselves to do by increasing the specialists that we’re providing here,” said Gijanto. “It’s a slow process. ... We’re not dying. We’re shifting, we’re changing,” he said.
At Wednesday’s forum — an event which union leaders said was an opportunity for the community to state their concerns about the local hospital — handouts were distributed, which detailed a gradual shift in medical services to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.
During the past few months of rallying community support for the union’s contract dispute with hospital administrators, nurses learned that some residents had growing concerns about their local hospital, said union co-chairs Linda Judd and Donna Stern.
They told the crowd of nearly 100 attendees that BFMC was their community hospital as well and that they had a vested interest in seeing it improve in the coming months and years.
But Gijanto said that despite the nurses’ best intentions, the forum may have done more damage than good for BFMC.
“I don’t think they’re out to hurt the hospital,” he said. “But inadvertently I think they are eroding community confidence, which can hurt the hospital in the long run.”
According to the union, the Greenfield hospital has reduced its urology, cardiovascular, pediatric and lab services and eliminated its visiting nurse services.
Gijanto acknowledged the last point, saying BFMC cut the visiting nurse service nine years ago because there wasn’t enough of a market to sustain it. It’s a service that is more and more leaving the hospitals and taken up by outside practices, he said.
But he took issue with two of the union’s claims, saying that the hospital’s cardiology and vascular units continue to grow and expand. BFMC operates a full-time cardiology unit, he said. The vascular unit, currently opens for a day and a half each week, and will expand its service when the two units merge this spring.
The hospital’s lab service, which handles blood work, is as “busy as we’ve ever been,” he said. The Greenfield hospital has access to Springfield’s lab, but there’s been no local reduction in services, he said.
BFMC is looking to hire a full-time urologist to replace one that left last year, but it’s a competitive market for those jobs, said Gijanto. The hospital enlists the services of a “traveling urologist” who works one day each week.
And while pediatric services have been reduced, Gijanto said that this has occurred at community hospitals elsewhere. Children still get lab work and X-rays done at the hospital and are admitted into its emergency room, he said.
But there isn’t a huge demand for local inpatient pediatric beds as there once was when children would routinely come in each winter with respiratory syncytial virus, said Gijanto.
Several people who spoke at Wednesday’s forum expressed disappointment that Gijanto and other hospital administrators were describing the care of local residents as a “business.” “There’s a distinction. We don’t treat our patients like they’re a business. We treat our patients with compassion and with good care,” said Gijanto.
“But we have to pay the bills,” he said. “Unfortunately with the massive (federal) cuts that have come through, you’re frequently asked to do more with less, and that trend continues.” Residents and nurses indicated Wednesday an interest in organizing another larger event. Gijanto said he isn’t sure if the hospital would participate if invited.
The hospital won’t be publicly speaking about the ongoing contract dispute with its nurses, he said, but would not be opposed to speaking at a forum about community care.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Christopher Donelan said that a group of elected officials and community leaders did not have phone calls returned by Baystate Health officials.
Gijanto said that Donelan never called his office because he would have returned his call. When reached by phone Thursday, Donelan said he called Baystate Health officials in Springfield, and that those administrators never called him back.