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Plans to close Quincy Medical Center surgical unit spark protest

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 18, 2013 04:03 PM

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The Massachusetts Nurses Association has filed a complaint with the state alleging that Steward Health Care has decided to close a 40-bed surgical unit at Quincy Medical Center, a move that the nurses association contends will lay off 30 registered nurses.

According to David Schildmeier, the nurses' association’s director of public communications, the floor has been temporarily closed for a few weeks, with plans only recently coming to light that the unit will close permanently.

The change is already having an impact, the nurses spokesman said.

“Since the temporary closing of the unit, the hospital has been unable to meet the needs of many patients in a safe or timely manner, with patients, who would be cared for on this and other units in the hospital, being boarded overnight in the already full emergency department,” he said. “On a daily basis we see six to 13 patients placed in this situation.”

The move has stressed other departments, Schildmeier said, with patients who would normally go to those surgical rooms ending up in the ICU and surgical recovery unit.

In addition to the impact on patients, the change is stressing an already-reduced hospital staff, who were picketing about the limited staffing even before the most recent decision.

“They are cutting back across the board…and staffing has been a problem there well before this unit closing. Now it’s created total chaos in the system,” he said.

The change is only the most recent since Steward Health Care acquired the bankrupt facility in October of 2011. Hospital officials have also made updates to the Emergency Department and parking area, and hired two pulmonologists.

Yet Schildmeier said these recent modifications, done without discussion with nurses, is in conflict with state law, which caused the union to file a complaint with the Department of Public Health.

While the move has prompted outcry from employees, Steward spokesperson Christopher Murphy said that the focus from inpatient care to outpatient services has not and will not affect the patients negatively.

“There is no lack of impatient resources,” Murphy said. “Despite any resource change from inpatient to outpatient, QMC maintains more than enough inpatient beds to meet the current volume and to meet a volume to grow.”

Murphy confirm the changed in direction but declined to specifically confirm that the surgical unit was closing. He also declined to say how many jobs may be lost due to the shift.

If anything, the hospital is growing, he said, with 20 open nursing positions currently available at Quincy Medical Center.

The hospital will also add a labor and delivery department as part of the new direction – something community members have been clamoring for, Murphy said.

This change and more – about $30 million in upgrades the hospital - is designed to better serve the community, Murphy said.

“It is a time of dynamic change at Quincy Medical Center and the whole point is to build a hospital that meets the needs of the community and is prepared for the new health care environment…all of which should insure that the hospital is there, stable, financially viable, and prepared to deliver excellent care to the people of Quincy for years to come,” Murphy said

Murphy would not comment on whether this move was designed to make the hospital profitable.

According to state records, Quincy Medical Center has been operating at a loss since FY08, losing $18.5 million in FY11 alone.

Regardless of the reason, nurses on the front lines of the changes say there is a large disconnect between management’s message and what is actually occurring.

According to Paula Ryan, a recovery room nurse and chair of the Nurses Local Union with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the surgical beds are still needed, and the changes may drive patients away from the hospital.

“We do have that concern, about the negative effect to the community,” Ryan said. “We were happy they purchased us, that we could move forward and provide quality care, but this is having a negative effect … we’re fond of our hospital and want it to remain in the community.”

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