Quincy Medical Center to close December 31st

BOSTON (SHNS) – The owners of Quincy Medical Center plan to close the hospital December 31, according to Steward Health Care, a move that one veteran lawmaker called a blow to the city just south of Boston.

The hospital is financially unsustainable because of competition from Boston-area medical centers, Medicare reimbursement cuts and Medicaid underfunding, as well as rate disparity, according to Steward Hospitals President Dr. Mark Girard. A decline in people seeking in-patient services at Quincy Medical also contributed to financial problems.

“On an average day, only 1/5 of all beds are occupied and it has become abundantly clear that local residents no longer seek inpatient services from Quincy Medical Center,” Girard said.

Steward announced it plans to replace the hospital with “a more sustainable health care system to meet the community’s needs.” The company said it was “one hundred percent committed to delivering convenience access to health care in Quincy, with a new 24-7 emergency department, separate site urgent care, and the ability of patients to continue seeing their personal doctors.”

The hospital has faced financial hardships for 20 years, leading to city and state bailouts of more than $100 million and ultimately federal bankruptcy, according to Steward officials. Since 2011, Steward has invested an additional $100 million in the hospital, but it has operating losses of nearly $20 million a year.

Steward officials notified the hospital’s employees of the closure on Thursday, citing the facility’s profitability as one of the reasons, according to an aide to Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy). Keenan and other area lawmakers learned of the closure plans Thursday morning.

House Majority Leader Rep. Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, described the closure as a major blow to the city because the hospital is a large employer with more than 600 employees.

Mariano said one of his main concerns is about residents having access to emergency services, and spoke with Steward Chief Executive Officer Ralph de la Torre about what the organization’s presence in the city will look like after the hospital closes. Mariano said de la Torre also expressed willingness to place hospital staff in new positions. “Most of the people who work there are city residents,” Mariano said.

Mariano said he fears the closure of the community hospital will drive up health care costs in the region.

“As we lose community hospitals – North Adams is gone, now Quincy is going, what is going to be left?” he said. “You are losing all the low-cost alternative treatment centers. What is going to be left is the monster conglomerates.

“This is not going to end with Quincy,” Mariano added.

Lawmakers tried to protect community hospitals with the 2011 health care cost containment law, Mariano said. “We wanted to support the community hospitals, but we may be too late. We have to re-evaluate what we are doing for community hospitals,” he said.

David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the timing of the closure “was a bit of a shock.” Schildmeier said nurses have been fighting to keep the hospital open for a while.

“Many of them have worked there 10, 20, 30 even 40 years,” he said. “Of course, this is a massive blow to them, even understanding the financial situation.”

Steward and union officials are working together on the transition to ensure employees’ rights and benefits are protected, Schildmeier said.

“They are working hand and hand with us to ensure the employees are treated well,” he said.

Members of Quincy’s legislative delegation plan to meet Friday in the office of Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch to discuss the situation. Nurses at the hospital held a one-day strike last April after failing to reach a contract with Steward, which purchased the facility in October 2011.

Steward said it had created an “employee transition support team” that includes human resources advisors, career consultants and employee assistance counselors, and said it believed there “job matches” within the company for “a substantial percentage” of Quincy Medical employees.

“We believe it is important that our employees have time to transition their careers while maintaining financial security and benefits,” Steward officials said in a statement. “All employees will continue to be paid for the next 60 days and be offered comprehensive support services.”

In explaining the closure plans, Steward officials said a “new health care network” would include the new 24-hour emergency department, and a state-of-the-art urgent care center at a separate site. For in-patient services, there are 15 hospitals within 10 miles of Quincy Medical Center, according to Steward officials.

Steward’s primary care physicians and specialist physicians “will remain in Quincy to ensure patients continue to have access to their own doctors,” the company said. The hospital will continue to operate as usual until its closure on Dec. 31.

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