Steward Health Care, which operates eight hospitals in eastern Massachusetts, says it is reorganizing several of its facilities to have intensive care units dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients, according to company officials.
The announcement came after the Massachusetts Nurses Association rebuked the hospital system, saying it wasn’t adequately preparing its frontline medical staff to deal with the rapid escalation of coronavirus cases.
New intensive care unit beds will open at Carney Hospital, Morton Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center, and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, according to a statement issued by Joseph Weinstein, Steward Health Care’s chief medical officer.
The only current exception to the new policy is that the ICU unit at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River will be kept COVID-free for as long as possible, Weinstein added.
“Like other hospitals, the Steward family of hospitals has seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients seeking medical care,” Weinstein said. “These patients often require minute to minute care with life sustaining machinery, medications and personnel who are at the bedside ready to react to any and all changes.”
Last week, members of the MNA publicly called out Steward for a lack of communication and not providing enough personal protective equipment. The union, which represents more than 2,750 nurses and health professionals working in eight Steward-owned hospitals in the Bay State, had said the company’s COVID-19 care plan was haphazard and endangered the lives of both staff and patients.
“While assuring staff and the public that Steward has a ‘robust supply’ and a stockpile of PPE and there is no shortage in the system, Steward is inconsistently providing PPE including N95 masks, gowns and other equipment to staff when needed,” MNA officials said in a statement. “If the stockpile exists, there is a disconnect because the supplies are not generally accessible to staff when needed.”
MNA Field Director Dana Simon welcomed Steward’s latest move to cluster COVID-19 patients, but urged the company to continue to refine its communication with its staff and improve access to PPE.
“We’ve been behind the 8-ball,” Simon said. “Every hospital and every unit, in every shift, there should be a unit huddle and there should be an exchange of information, so that problems are discussed in real time.”
On Sunday, Steward announced that it began to convert Morton Hospital in Taunton into a dedicated COVID-19 treatment site.
Before that, nurses told WGBH News that they had to reuse N95 masks for days at a time, that PPE was under guarded security and that they were being shuffled from unit to unit without any information about how the assignments were being made.
“A nurse should not have to be looking around for an N95,” said Karen Skarbek, a registered nurse who works at Carney Hospital in Dorchester. “if she’s running into a room to intubate a patient.”
Skarbek, a 38-year veteran of Carney, a trained ICU nurse and vice chair of the MNA, added that the hospital’s policies were confusing.
Steward Health Care spokesman Nicholas Puleo calls the MNA allegations “outrageous falsehoods.” The company said the safety of their patients and staff is a top priority.
“Steward Health Care has taken a very systematic, proactive and comprehensive approach to balance the need of accommodating the rise in COVID-19 patients across Massachusetts, while maintaining the level and quality of care for all our patients and the communities we serve,” Puleo said in a statement. “This requires agility and flexibility as we work to beat back the surge of COVID-19.”