MNA: Mass. DPH to Hold July 24th Public Hearing to Gather Community/Stakeholder Testimony Regarding the Impact of UMass Memorial Health's Plan to Close the Birthing Center at Leominster Hospital

The Demonstration follows the release of an alarming DPH report showing a dramatic rise in serious complications from labor & delivery in Massachusetts, which disproportionately impacts communities of color, the very communities placed most at risk by this closure, according to health care and community advocates

When:  Monday July 24 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hilton Doubletree Hotel, 99 Erdman Way, Leominster, MA
Who:  Former patients, expectant mothers, physicians, nurses, concerned residents, community/healthcare advocates, as well as several state and local officials are expected to testify in strong opposition to the closure

LEOMINSTER, Mass, July 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health will host a public hearing on Monday July 24th, for community input on a controversial proposal by UMass Memorial Health to close the Birthing Center at Leominster Hospital, which will be held at the Hilton Doubletree Hotel in Leominster at 5:30 p.m.

The DPH hearing is the latest in a series of events drawing public attention to the impact of the closing on the Gateway Cities of Leominster and Fitchburg, as well as many surrounding communities who are poised to be deprived of access to safe maternity care.  It follows a Baby Stroller Brigade event held on July 17 and a well-attended community forum held on June 29 by the Community United to Save Our Birthing Center, a growing and diverse grassroots coalition dedicated to waging a campaign to convince UMass Memorial Health and CEO Erik Dickson of the need to preserve this vital service for vulnerable mothers and newborns in these communities.

The Leominster Hospital Birthing Center provides an essential service that must be maintained, including labor, delivery, postpartum and nursery care for families living in communities of Northern Worcester County. 

“The loss of this service will jeopardize the health of mothers and newborns in our community, leaving mothers to deliver in overcrowded emergency rooms or on the side of highways as they try reach alternative services in Gardner and Worcester,” said Eladia Romero, a board member with the Spanish American Center, who serves as a co-chair of the Community United coalition. “It’s going to take all of us working together to convince those in power to reverse their decision and save this service.”

The DPH hearing is required under law to allow the public impacted by any closure to voice their concerns as part of the process for DPH to determine if the service to be closed is an essential service necessary for preserving access and health status within the hospital service area; and if it is, to require the hospital to either alter the plan, or to provide a detailed explanation of how those service will be delivered in the alternative. Unfortunately, the agency lacks the authority to stop the closure.

Opponents to the plan intend to make the case at the hearing that there is no safe or adequate alternative that UMass Memorial could implement that can or will compensate for the loss of this vital service.  The only result will be that 500 – 700 mothers a year would have their lives and their newborns lives placed in jeopardy due to the lack of local access to maternity care.

“We hear so much about health equity but talk is cheap. We are tired of listening to people talking about health and economic justice. If you are in a position of power and you choose to side with those who have everything to gain instead of those who have everything to lose, then we know what your priorities are,” said Irene Hernandez, a member of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation and co-chair of the Community United coalition. “This closing would be another huge financial win for the hospital, but another devastating loss to our community, particularly black and brown women, and people who are already suffering.” 

The Coalition’s position on the closing was further buoyed by the release last week of an alarming report by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showing a dramatic increase in the rate of serious complications and maternal child deaths from labor and delivery in our state over the last 10 years. DPH researchers found that rates of severe maternal morbidity climbed from 52.3 per 10,000 deliveries in 2011 to 100.4 per 10,000 deliveries in 2020, an average increase of 8.9 percent each year. It also found that women of color continue to face higher rates of complications, with black women consistently experiencing the highest rates. Compared to white non-Hispanic women, black non-Hispanic women experienced 2.3 times higher rates of complications on average during the study period, and Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women experienced rates 1.2 times higher. This is the very population placed most at risk by the proposed closure of the Birthing Center at Leominster Hospital, the only facility serving the two Gateway Cities of Leominster and Fitchburg.

A quote by Governor Maura Healey in the press release about the DPH report clearly articulates the same concerns about the need for access to services like the Birthing Center that will be made at the hearing on Monday, when she stated, “This report shows that there is much more work that we need to do to address racial and gender inequities in health care. It is essential that everyone has access to comprehensive, high-quality and inclusive maternal health care.  We can and must do better for mothers, for kids and for families – and our administration is committed to doing just that.”

Regardless of the outcome of the DPH hearing, the Community United to Save Our Birthing Center Coalition and others who oppose the closing will be looking to the Healey administration to honor that commitment by providing whatever support is needed to preserve the Birthing Center to ensure continued access to safe maternity care in Northern Worcester County.   

The period of time covered in the new DPH maternal child health report is the same period when the state saw community hospitals close 10 programs providing maternity care.  These were closures that occurred despite the fact that the DPH declared those services essential to preserving the health of those communities.  The loss of maternity services creates what the March of Dimes has characterized as “maternity deserts”, meaning regions where residents lack appropriate access to needed maternity care, particularly for those serving poorer communities and people of color.

As part of the campaign, the Community United Coalition has launched a petition drive for community members and supporters to register their support for the Birthing Center, which will be shared with UMass Memorial Health, the Department of Public Health and other officials, urging them to rescind this dangerous plan, and to preserve this vital service.  Click here to view the petition:

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SOURCE Massachusetts Nurses Association

MNA: Mass. DPH to Hold July 24th Public Hearing to Gather Community/Stakeholder Testimony Regarding the Impact of UMass Memorial Health's Plan to Close the Birthing Center at Leominster Hospital WeeklyReviewer

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