STATE HOUSE BOSTON, NOV. 18, 2014…..The proposed closure of Quincy Medical Center has been pushed back to Feb. 4, 2015, and the attorney general’s office on Tuesday raised the possibility of legal action against the hospital’s owners.
The original Dec. 31 closure date, announced on Nov. 6 by Steward Health Care System, would have violated the hospital owner’s statutory obligations requiring 90 days notice to the state Department of Public Health (DPH), according to a letter from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office to an attorney for Steward, which owns the hospital.
Steward cited financial losses and a host of local competitors in the area in its decision to close the hospital, while saying they will have a new outpatient delivery system in Quincy that will include an emergency department and an urgent care center.
A Steward spokeswoman said on Tuesday that the for-profit company is working “closely” with DPH to ensure patient safety in the transition.
“The hospital will cease operations as dictated by patient volume, employee and community needs,” Brooke Thurston, the spokeswoman, said in an email. “Based on our analysis, we believe that patient volume will drop off significantly before the end of the year but the State wanted assurances that we would maintain operations until early February if need be.”
When they announced their closure plans, Quincy Medical officials said only one fifth of beds at the facility are occupied on average day.
According to Steward, the company has grappled with operating losses of almost $20 million a year despite an investment of $100 million in the hospital after purchasing it in 2011. The majority of patients leave Quincy for inpatient care elsewhere, the company added.
The Department of Public Health has scheduled a Dec. 2 public hearing at Quincy’s Point Webster Middle School on the closure.
“The 90 day notice requirement, which we strongly urged the Attorney General to enforce in this case, exists so that state agencies can sufficiently assess the community’s needs and carefully plan for a safe and smooth transition,” Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) said in a statement. “With this change, we understand that Steward is now committed to working closely with the Department of Public Health over the next 90 days to ensure appropriate continuity of access.”
In his letter to Steward attorney David Szabo, Bob Ross, chief of Coakley’s business and labor bureau, called the delay “positive,” and added that the company must also comply with contractual obligations it agreed to when the company acquired the bankrupt hospital in 2011.
The asset purchase agreement requires Steward to maintain an acute care hospital in Quincy for ten years from the date of the deal’s closure.
Ross said in the letter that the attorney general’s office has the right to enforce several provisions in the agreement, “including the ‘no close period’ provision as well as other provisions that serve the public interest.”
Ross said that Coakley’s office disagrees with some of Szabo’s contentions that Steward’s contractual obligations under the agreement should be changed, but her office is willing to have a discussion “prior to pressing our contractual rights in court” as long as Steward is “unequivocal” in its compliance with state hospital closure laws.
“While we evaluate Steward’s contentions that its contractual obligations should be altered, we reserve all of our rights to proceed with an appropriate court action to enforce the terms of the [agreement] and related agreements,” he wrote.
Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch wrote a letter to Coakley last week asking for a “thorough investigation” of the terms of the closure.
“While I understand the financial principles guiding Steward’s decision-making process, I firmly believe that we must do everything in our power to ensure that the interests of the employees of Quincy Medical Center and the residents of the City of Quincy are protected to every extent possible,” he wrote. “Only a full investigation can meet that goal.”
Quincy’s legislative delegation — including Sen. Keenan and House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, and Reps. Bruce Ayers, Tackey Chan and Daniel Hunt — followed up in its own letter on Nov. 10, saying its members were unaware of any plans to close the hospital prior to Nov. 6.
“This unannounced closure also follows closely behind a similar incident, in which North Adams Hospital was closed with little notice to the affected residents and employees,” they wrote. “This troubling pattern must be met with strong action by regulatory and enforcement agencies. Absent a clear demonstration that we will enforce our laws and regulations around the closure of essential health services, we can only expect this pattern to continue.”
Copyright 2014 State House News Service