Rebecca Hyman email@example.com
TAUNTON — State Sen. Marc Pacheco has asked the attorney general to look into Steward Health Care’s decision to close Morton Hospital’s maternity unit indefinitely — and potentially permanently — after a physicians group walked away from a contract to provide neonatal care.
“By permanently withdrawing neonatal care from Taunton’s Morton Hospital, Steward Health Care’s corporate leadership fosters a dangerous environment for our residents, one that turns its back on a woman in labor or distress, pushes her into a cab and sends her off to another facility miles away.”
In a letter dated Dec. 1, Pacheco asked Attorney General Maura Healey to look into whether Steward, Morton’s parent company, is living up to the commitments it made “to the public health of our community” when it purchased Morton in 2011.
In late October, Morton announced it was temporarily diverting labor and delivery patients to Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton after Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, owned by Partners Health Care, said it could not fulfill its contract to provide neonatal doctors at Morton.
Morton is still performing emergency deliveries.
Steward Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Weinstein said in a written statement to the Gazette Wednesday the hospital will “continue to fully staff the labor and delivery unit while working with the Department of Public Health on next steps.”
He has repeatedly said it is unsafe to operate a maternity unit without neonatal specialists skillful in performing procedures such as endotracheal intubation, umbilical line placement and neonatal resuscitation.
“Steward continues to believe that the inability of Partners to provide the required pediatric hospitalist coverage at Morton Hospital could potentially place infants born at Morton in grave jeopardy, as only these physicians have the training, education and experience to resuscitate infants,” Weinstein said in the letter to the Department of Public Health dated Nov. 13.
“While I acknowledge the existence of contractual issues between Steward and Partners Healthcare, they should not necessitate the elimination of maternity services altogether. It is reasonable to pause and provide remediation alternatives for proper public safety, but complete withdrawal is a cruel, perilous approach,” Pacheco said.
“As a physician who will always put the safety and health of patients first, I welcome any and all support in our outreach to find a willing and qualified replacement for Partners to provide these services,” Weinstein said.
In a written statement on behalf of Partners, Physician-in-Chief of MassGeneral Hospital for Children Dr. Ronald Kleinman said the reason Partners can no longer guarantee coverage is Morton’s “extremely low volume of deliveries.”
“These competencies, which include neonatal resuscitation and intubation, are critical benchmarks that ensure care meets the highest standards of quality and safety, and are readily available in other Taunton-area hospitals’ higher volume obstetrical services,” Kleinman said.
Those questions included: Why the doctors could not maintain their skills if their assignments included higher-volume hospitals in addition to Morton; whether there is a shortage of neonatal doctors; whether neonatal doctors are refusing to work shifts at Morton; and why Partners is able to continue to provide neonatal doctors at Good Samaritan, which is also a Steward hospital, but not at Morton.
There will still need to be emergency deliveries at Morton. It’s better to have a trained specialist on hand — even one who does not use those skills as often as at a higher volume hospital — than no specialist, he said.
“Regardless of whether our outreach yields a willing and qualified neonatal hospitalist physician group who can perform the necessary services in a timely fashion in place of Partners, highly skilled Morton Hospital physicians and staff will continue to perform emergency deliveries as needed, similar to the approach taken by other hospitals its size across the state,” Weinstein said.
“To whatever extent this problem relates to a contractual dispute between Steward Morton and the Partners pediatrics groups, the imperative is to meet the ne of the community. No one has the luxury of citing this dispute when the community ne this essential service,” the MNA said in an email to the Gazette.
“When Steward purchased this hospital they made a commitment to keep all services open. They have already broken that promise once when they closed the pediatric unit at the hospital,” the MNA said in reference to the 2013 closure of Morton’s pediatric unit, also on grounds of low volume.
“Now they are violating their commitment once again by closing access to maternity services for a community that desperately ne this service. The maternity nurses and staff at Morton provide a valuable service to the Taunton community as this community is one of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, and this community has one of the highest rates of children born to addicted mothers. Our staff are expert at caring for these patients, and for many patients, who are very poor, accessing care in other communities is a true hardship.”