Nurses upset over Providence Hospital sale 

  • Nurses, union leaders and community members rally in front of the former Providence Behavioral Health Hospital on Thursday to protest the hospital’s sale to the for-profit company Health Partners New England, now called MiraVista Behavioral Health Center. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 4/23/2021 10:19:52 AM

HOLYOKE — For 32 years, Lynn Orlowski worked caring for patients at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. But last week was her last at the hospital, which is now under new ownership that has declined to recognize the contract of unionized nurses in the building.

“This is an extremely devastating time for myself and my former coworkers,” Orlowski said Thursday. She said that her patients were like family and that it pained her when they asked if she would continue working at the hospital when new ownership took over. “It was extremely devastating and difficult to express the fact that I could not.”

Orlowski was one of a group of nurses, labor leaders and other community members who rallied outside the hospital — now called MiraVista Behavioral Health Center — in protest of its sale to the for-profit company Health Partners New England. The sale was announced in February, and the company took over the facility this week from the nonprofit Trinity Health, the health care company that operates Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.

Trinity Health announced in early 2020 that it would close 74 inpatient psychiatric beds at Providence, ending its child and adolescent psychiatric services and causing a significant reduction in mental health services in the region. Some 200 employees lost their jobs as a result of the closure of those services, which the state had deemed “necessary for preserving access and health status within the Hospital’s service area.”

Then, in February 2021, Providence announced it was selling the hospital to the Devens-based Health Partners New England. That meant that another 151 employees would be laid off and would have to reapply for their jobs, which would no longer be unionized. The Massachusetts Nurses Association, or MNA, represented 40 nurses in the building and Local 2322 of the United Auto Workers, or UAW, represented 60 other staffers.

It was that process that the MNA and others criticized Thursday. The group also questioned whether a for-profit company could cherry-pick patients, potentially leaving out those on Medicaid or Medicare, and how losing union protection would impact workers’ ability to speak up about patient and staff safety.

“Those who are going to be impacted most are children and families,” said Ivette Hernandez, who worked at Providence for two years before leaving this month. Hernandez added that many were sad and angry at the hospital’s sale. “The workers there are not going to be treated the same.”

In a statement, Health Partners New England said it began providing outpatient addiction services on-site Wednesday and will open 36 psychiatric beds by the end of the month. Health Partners has said it intends to open the 74 beds that were shut last spring and to add 100 additional beds.

“We regret that the Massachusetts Nurses Association is attempting to distract our patients and our new team members given the enormous efforts to bring back these services at such a crucial time,” the statement said.

Trinity Health’s decision to close those inpatient beds — some of which were the only pediatric beds in the region — came after the state’s Department of Public Health deemed the beds essential services.

At a hearing before the DPH a year ago, Mercy Medical Center officials argued that the closure was the result of a general shortage of psychiatrists as well as reimbursement levels not adequate enough to cover the cost of care at the facility.

Those at Thursday’s rally, however, questioned how a for-profit entity can now open those same beds. Some of those speaking at the rally suggested that the new owners might exclude some patients — those whose health insurance has lower reimbursement rates, for example.

“Access is not going to be equal,” said Katie Murphy, the MNA’s president and an intensive-care nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She also expressed concern that nonunion employees would not feel able to speak up for their patients or themselves. “When the bottom line is more important than patient care, patient care suffers ... Profit has no place in health care.”

In its statement, Health Partners said that delivering patient-centered care “will always be our top priority at MiraVista.”

“We are looking forward to providing the same compassionate, high-quality health-related services in Western Massachusetts that we do at our affiliated facility TaraVista in Devens,” the company said.

Holyoke’s acting Mayor Terrence Murphy also made an appearance on Thursday. He said that when any takeover of a local business happens, he urges the company to hire those who previously worked at the facility. He encouraged Health Partners to engage with the MNA.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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