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MNA Pickets Over More Hospital Bed Losses

The “temporary” closure of 20 beds by Trinity Health prompted nurses to speak out against negative impacts on patients.

Mercy Medical Center nurse Katelyn Roberson speaks at an informational picket the hospital’s nurses union organized on Monday, July 17, 2023. Christensen photo.

SPRINGFIELD — Standing on a picket line outside Mercy Medical Center, Jaime Hyatt had a history lesson for the gathered protesters. It was in 1873, he explained, that the Sisters of Charity of the House of Providence arrived in Holyoke and established what became known as Providence Hospital. Soon after, the Catholic congregation built Mercy and spent more than a century expanding health care in western Massachusetts.

But now, Hyatt alleged, the health care giant that owns Mercy is reversing all of those gains.

“In the last ten years we have not seen caretaking, instead we have seen the dismantling of what it took the sisters 140 years to build,” he said, accusing Michigan-based Trinity Health of running the former Providence Hospital in Holyoke “into the ground” before selling it to a for-profit company. “They now seem to be taking apart Mercy Hospital as well: closing units, not filling jobs, closing the cafeteria. The list goes on and on.”  

Hyatt, who is a co-chair of the hospital’s nurses union, was speaking at a lunch-hour picket on Monday. The Mercy Medical Center staffers, who are unionized with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, alleged that Trinity Health’s “detached corporate management” has created an artificial staffing crisis by not hiring or incentivizing staff, then used that staffing crunch to close 20 intermediate-care beds. The union said that the resulting situation has jeopardized patient care and access.

The bed closures, which Trinity Health has said are temporary, are just the latest in western Massachusetts. In recent years, the region has seen beds close for addiction-recovery, maternity, rehabilitative and psychiatric services. In 2021, Trinity Health closed the 122-bed Farren Care Center in Montague — a long-term rehab facility for this with chronic health conditions. Just this month, the for-profit MiraVista Behavioral Health Center — previously known as Providence Behavioral Health Hospital until Trinity Health sold it in 2021 — closed 57 detox and recovery beds

The Massachusetts Nurses Association has frequently rallied against the closure of hospitals or hospital units. The union says it has identified more than 30 such closures across the state since 2009.

In a statement, a Trinity Health spokesperson said that Mercy continues to provide high-quality care as the organization manages “post-pandemic and global workforce shortages.”

“Due to staffing limitations and keeping colleague and patient safety at the forefront, the decision was made to consolidate two inpatient units on a temporary basis, but no recent changes have been made to the programs and services Mercy Medical Center offers to the community, including essential services and intermediate care services,” the statement said. “We are proud of our teams that provide life-saving care, including our nurses, providers, and other colleagues, each and every day.”

But nurses on the picket line Monday said that Trinity Health has “broken promises” by closing services despite claims to be a “mission-driven” organization. The nurses said that management informed them that some 10,000 people have left the hospital’s emergency room without receiving treatment over the last year. 

“This is not why I went into nursing,” Mercy RN Anne-Marie Paquette told those gathered. When she started at the hospital a decade prior, it was upsetting when just a few patients left the ER in a day, she said.

The union pointed out that in February, Trinity Health issued a statement describing itself as “one of the nation’s largest health care systems” and still growing, with operating revenue of $10.5 billion. However, the nurses said that the organization isn’t using that money to retain or hire nurses, likening Trinity Health’s staffing system to the “lean management” typical of a car manufacturer.

“That building over there isn’t a factory,” Hyatt said.

The union said that Trinity Health has given no timetable for the reopening of the beds. In a statement, the MNA accused Trinity Health of following the same “game plan” as when it shuttered services at Providence Hospital.

“Management artificially lowered census by diverting admissions and refusing to staff appropriately,” the statement said. “It then systematically closed child, adult, and geriatric psychiatric beds and sold the hospital to a for-profit company.”

Katelyn Roberson, a Mercy RN and member of the MNA’s board of directors, said that she sees the closures in terms of their impacts on patients.

“When you take away one bed on a unit, that could mean one life,” she said.

Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.

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