Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing a bill that would give the state the power to step in and temporarily take control of a hospital that wants to shut down essential services.
Three acute care hospitals — in North Adams, Lynn and Quincy — have closed since 2014 in Massachusetts, despite the state Department of Public Health determining their services were necessary, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which backs the receivership bill.
The DPH reviews hospitals' plans to close or discontinue services, a multi-step process that includes a public hearing for community members to weigh in. The DPH cannot stop a hospital from closing, but it can require hospital officials to submit a plan for maintaining access to critical services.
Testifying before the Public Health Committee Thursday, bill supporters said the current process falls short, particularly in cases where community members, hospital staff and local elected officials oppose a closure.
Giving the state the option of receivership "puts the needs of patients and communities first," said Tara Corey, a nurse at a Leominster hospital where the labor and delivery unit is slated for closure this fall.
"It would allow the state to examine the hospital's finances and provide stability and continuity of care, and be a bridge to potential purchase and operations by a new owner," Corey said.
Certified nurse midwife Esther Hausman said last year's closure of the North Shore Birthing Center translated to "lives disrupted and pregnant woman who were given little notice to seek care elsewhere," and North Shore Labor Council director Yusif Abdallah said the shuttering of Lynn Union Hospital means some city residents now have to travel a half hour for care.
The legislation filed by Rep. Peter Capano of Lynn and Sen. Paul Mark of Becket would task the Department of Public Health with creating a receivership process for hospitals and clinics that close either without providing 90 days of notice or after the DPH determines the closure "would constitute a discontinuation of services necessary for preserving access and health status in the hospital or free-standing clinic’s service area."
That bill is one of several reforms lawmakers have proposed this year in response to a wave of closures, service discontinuations and consolidations that come as the health care industry at large copes with staffing shortages, financial losses and other market trends.
"This is a problem that we have to address," said Rep. Marjorie Decker, the House chair of the Public Health Committee. "Our hospitals are really struggling. They are flailing on every level, and we are working hand in hand with our provider community, our patient community and our hospital community. It is complicated and we are really doing a lot to try to figure this out, because we know that the outcomes are dire and stark."