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Franklin County resolutions militate for hospital services

Concern that medical services are slowly slipping away from Baystate Franklin Medical Center and traveling south down Interstate 91 to Springfield has launched the hospital’s nurses and Franklin County residents into political action.

At least 10 Franklin County towns, and as many as 15, could see resolutions on their town meeting warrants this spring that would express a desire to keep medical services intact at the Greenfield hospital.

Massachusetts Nurses Association representatives, who work at Baystate Franklin, have said that despite the hospital continuing to provide quality health care, more and more patients are being routinely sent down to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Hospital officials rebutted this claim, arguing that Baystate Franklin is increasing its local services while still being able to connect patients with specialists in Springfield if necessary.

Nurses have stated that Baystate Franklin has eliminated its visiting nurse services and reduced its urology, cardiovascular, lab and pediatric services.

The hospital has countered that cardiovascular services are expanding and lab services have remained constant. Pediatric services are decreasing at community hospitals across the country, they said, and the visiting nurse service was cut nine years ago because there wasn’t enough of a market to sustain it.

MNA spokesman David Schildmeier said that residents have gathered enough signatures to place the resolution on 10 town warrants: Bernardston, Buckland, Colrain, Deerfield, Erving, Heath, Leyden, Montague, Shelburne and Whately.

If the resolutions pass, the towns would officially ask Baystate Health officials, “to commit all necessary resources to ensure the provision of all needed services and to commit to the long-term viability of a full-service community hospital at Baystate Franklin Medical Center which will meet the health care needs of the residents of Franklin County.” Copies of the resolutions would be sent directly by each town clerk to Mark Tolosky, president and chief executive officer of Baystate Health System, and to Chuck Gijanto, president of Baystate Regional Markets.

Local nurses union co-chair Donna Stern — who said repeatedly that this effort is not connected to the ongoing 18-month contract dispute with the hospital — said the resolutions came about after a union-hosted community forum last month.

It was while rallying support for the union’s contract dispute last fall, nurses say, that they first heard concerns from Franklin County residents who fear services were slowly but surely transferring from Greenfield to Springfield.

Gijanto, the president of Baystate Franklin and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, said that hospital officials, “are in full agreement with the spirit of the resolution — namely, to keep a strong, vibrant community hospital right here in Franklin County.” But he argued that there has been an increase of local services — cardiology, vascular surgery, pulmonology, sports medicine, wound management and physical and rehabilitation medicine — at the doctor’s office or on an outpatient basis at the hospital.

Advances in medications and technology have dramatically reduced pediatric admissions at all community hospitals, including Baystate Franklin. The Greenfield hospital admits a small number of pediatric patients each year, for emergency situations and some surgeries, but transfers more specialized cases down to Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, said Gijanto.

And the hospital needs to pay attention to finances in order to pay the bills, he said.

“Our process for deciding which programs and services to offer at Baystate Franklin is similar to that used by area towns and school systems as they determine what their local budgets will be able (to) support in coming years,” said Gijanto. “It’s driven by community need, by our commitment to provide the highest quality service, and by cost consciousness — making best use of available resources.”

Still, he added, making more local services available is not only better for community residents, but it’s also “more cost-efficient than it would be to provide the same care at a teaching hospital.” Stern said it has been easy to garner local support for the resolution.

“This is not a hard sell. This is something that is really important to people,” she said.

“It’s basically stopping the bleeding,” said Stern. “It’s the people of Franklin County waking up and saying, ‘Wait a second. What is going on here?’”

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