Holyoke Medical Center notifies state of birthing center closure

  • Holyoke Medical Center GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2020 9:22:59 AM
Modified: 7/3/2020 9:22:48 AM

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Medical Center this week issued its formal notice to state health officials about its decision to permanently close its maternity services unit on Oct. 1.

The 90-day notice sent to the state Department of Public Health from the hospital comes exactly one month after the medical center notified the state of its intention to permanently close its 13-bed obstetrics unit and 10-bassinet infant nursery. The hospital’s Birthing Center was temporarily closed in early April to house patients from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home as the veterans’ home went through a deadly COVID-19 outbreak. A public hearing on the medical center’s proposal to close its Birthing Center will be held on July 28, according to state health officials.

The hospital’s abrupt decision to close its Birthing Center was a shock to many — its closure would leave Holyoke residents with no place for obstetric care in the city. Some city councilors, while condemning the closure, said they hadn’t been notified about the decision in a timely manner — which HMC’s president and CEO, Spiros Hatiras has refuted. 

In its formal notice, HMC said the decision to shutter the hospital’s Birthing Center was due to low utilization of its services as well as financial feasibility, and that patients in the city are “able to access equivalent services in the Medical Center’s service area.” The hospital cited data showing the total number of births having dropped to 368 in 2019 from 435 in 2012 — an over 15% decrease — and that its average daily census was at its lowest in 2019. The hospital also cited its lack of a neonatal intensive care unit as a reason why some mothers choose to give birth elsewhere.

Some former employees said other factors were behind the drop in the number of deliveries, according to a Gazette report published last month. The former employees alleged that hospital administrators had created a hostile work environment — jeopardizing patient care and forcing out veteran employees. Between late 2018 and early 2019, eight of the practice’s 10 midwives had left or been let go.

Deliveries at HMC have stopped since the temporary closure, with patients going to other area hospitals. In its formal notice sent to DPH, HMC said it has “engaged in planning with Mercy Medical Center for the transition of care of expectant mothers,” and with Holyoke Health Center to ensure local patients have access to prenatal services. The notice acknowledges that some people may have trouble accessing pre-natal services outside of the city, so the hospital “will continue to provide pre-natal services at the same location and with the same access as before the closure.” 

Jay Breines, CEO of Holyoke Health Center, said his facility does not have the capacity to provide prenatal services, but that he is exploring partnerships with other medical providers in the area to provide these services, either by sending patients elsewhere or bringing specialists in under contract.

“We’re working hard to make sure that women in this community have the best access that we can possibly put together for them,” Breines said. 

In its notice to the state, Holyoke Medical Center said that it did not anticipate a negative impact to patients in the service area, citing maternity services at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton as alternatives. 

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 

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