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The Birthing Center at HMC is at risk of closing

An update from the front lines.

This past Spring, Holyoke Medical Center (HMC) announced that it intended to close its Birthing Center. When the news reached the City Council at its June 16th meeting, many Councilors were shocked at the news and that no outreach was conducted to inform the body in advance of the formal communication. Our community worked very hard years ago to secure bilingual and culturally sensitive, perinatal and midwifery care in the City following very high infant mortality rates in the mid-late 1990’s. Councilors had many questions about how this potential closure would impact workers, the City, and the access to care that would be available to our community’s most vulnerable members– women and children of color. The City Council decided that we should invite in the CEO/President of HMC, Spiros Hatiras, for a public discussion of the Medical Center’s plans and thoughts on the matter.

 

The Development and Government Relations (DGR) extended an invitation to Mr. Hatiras to speak with Councilors at its July 20th meeting, but Mr. Hatiras declined to show. Instead, he sent an email to the DGR committee stating that he would reply in writing to questions Councilors submitted by that Friday the 24th. I submitted a list of 10 questions (below), though to this day the Council has not yet received a response with answers. These are hard-hitting and important questions for our community to understand and to which we deserve answers. The lack of response is disturbing for many reasons, but foremost because it’s disrespectful to the Council and correspondingly, to the citizens that we represent. We would expect more from Mr. Hatiras as the leader of a large community institution (who is paid $750,000/year to do his job).

  1. The bilingual nurse-midwifery service in downtown Holyoke was mandated by DPH in 1985 to address the infant mortality rate in Holyoke. Why did the hospital curtail hours in downtown Holyoke and ultimately stop providing service there?
  2. I understand that most of the senior midwives left the hospital after almost 20 years of affiliation with HMC and that some were even paid not to come to work. Why would such a well-established group suddenly leave? And why did the hospital continue to pay them after they were instructed not to return to work?
  3. Following the departure of the midwives, the birthing census went down and the cesarean section rate went up, both significantly, in 2019. To what do you attribute these shifts in care and outcomes?
  4. One of the reasons why you are claiming there is a need to shutter the birthing unit is that the low census was due to the fact that HMC does not have a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Why, then, is HMC affiliating with Mercy Hospital that also doesn’t have a NICU?
  5. Why did Dr. Yi-LoYu and Dr. Brian Toole, two of only three Ob/Gyn doctors, leave the organization?
  6. Who presently sits on HMC’s Board of Directors (names and addresses, please)? How many members of the hospital’s Board of Directors live in Holyoke? Do you live in Holyoke? How many of the members of the Board of Directors are representative of the Latinx community in Holyoke?
  7. By what mechanism does the hospital evaluate the public health needs of the City of Holyoke and then make decisions based on that evaluation?
  8. Has HMC secured grants based on Holyoke’s community demographics? If so, what were the grants (name, granting body, and amounts) and how were they applied in order to provide services to our Holyoke community?
  9. Over the years, HMC has been very adamant about its need to expand and grow its hospital campus, often at the expense of the Holyoke neighborhoods most adjacent to the hospital. How is it that the hospital has money for infrastructure expansion and improvements, but does not have money for essential health services for our most vulnerable community members– women and children?
  10. If the hospital’s finances are stretched, what is the long-term strategic viability plan? How can the City of Holyoke be assured that in 3, 5, or 10 years from now, we won’t be shuttering the entire facility and left with another significantly large vacant building property to manage and resuscitate, i.e: the Holyoke Geriatric Authority, Lynch School, and so on.

As part of the process for a community hospital to change its services, the Department of Public Health (DPH) held a public hearing on the potential closing of the HMC Birthing Unit on July 28. Members of the community could give spoken or written testimony with their thoughts, concerns, opinions, or questions on the matter. I submitted written testimony and several colleagues, Councilors Murphy, Sullivan, Anderson-Burgos, and Lebron-Martinez, endorsed and signed onto the letter to emphasize our interest and concern in the matter. Fortunately, the DPH ruled that the Birthing Unit is deemed an essential service for the greater Holyoke community. However, this is only a small victory in the larger battle for accountability from HMC and the ruling does not in any way compel the Hospital to stop the closure.

There has been good local media coverage on this issue and I encourage you to keep up with it over the next few months. I am including links to previous coverage below:

Holyoke Medical Center closing birthing center

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published: 6/5/2020

Holyoke Medical Center plans to close Birthing Center

–By . Published: 6/8/2020

A ‘gem’ in the community: Former patients of Birthing Center react to announced closure

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published: 6/10/2020

Holyoke hospital unit closures part of larger trend, experts say

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published: 6/22/2020

Hospital CEO responds to council criticism

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published: 6/23/2020

Editorial: Hospital chief fails to lead in birthing center closure

–By Editorial Board, gazettenet.com. Published: 6/25/2020

State sets hearing on Holyoke Medical Center’s planned birthing center closure

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published:  7/12/2020

State hears testimony on closure of Holyoke Medical Center’s birthing center

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published:  7/29/2020

State finds Holyoke Medical Center’s birthing services ‘necessary’ for area

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published:  8/19/2020

State DPH: Holyoke Medical Center Birthing Center services necessary to community

–By Elizabeth Roman, masslive.com. Published:  8/19/2020

Supporters rally to save birthing services in Holyoke

–By Dusty Christensen, gazettenet.com. Published:  8/20/2020

Holyoke Birthing Center closure highlights community concerns about medical services

–By Elizabeth Roman, masslive.com. Published:  8/26/2020

El cierre del centro de maternidad de Holyoke destaca las preocupaciones de la comunidad sobre los servicios médicos

–By Elizabeth Roman, El Pueblo Latino. Published:  8/27/2020

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