The Massachusetts Department of Public Health will hold a public hearing tomorrow, July 6th, on a controversial proposal by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare to close its outpatient oncology services at MetroWest Medical Center’s Framingham Union Hospital campus. The hearing, which is the first in-person hearing scheduled by DPH since the onset of the COVID pandemic, will be held in Nevins Hall at the Memorial Building (City Hall) at 6 p.m.
Tenet’s closure plan, which includes the loss of oncology infusion and radiation oncology services, has been met with strong opposition from state and local public officials, local physicians and even the hospital’s local Governing Board.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association, which represents nurses and health professionals working in more than 85 of the state’s healthcare facilities from Cape Cod to Pittsfield including the nurses at Tenet-Owned MetroWest Medical Center (the Leonard Morse campus) and St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, opposes the closure. The organization’s President and Framingham resident Katie Murphy will be attending the hearing to offer strong testimony condemning the closure and calling out Tenet Healthcare for yet another attempt to “profit from the suffering of the most vulnerable in our community.”
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“As a practicing nurse, and on behalf nurses who provide oncology care in the Commonwealth, I can tell you there is no medical, no moral and no financial justification for Tenet’s decision to abandon this vital service to this community,” Murphy will testify. “For patients coping with a cancer diagnosis, the stress, anxiety and physical strain can be an enormous burden, which makes local access to treatment vital for positive outcomes. It is even more important for a community like Framingham, which has a significant and growing population of residents who lack the means to easily travel the long distances Tenet callously will force them to travel for the care they should be getting close to home.”
The MNA was astonished to read in Tenet’s official statement on the closure, claiming the decision was made “with the community’s best interest in mind.”
“To characterize this decision as in this community’s best interest is akin to Vladimir Putin calling the bombing of Ukraine a process of urban renewal,” according to Murphy. “It appears that the only interest Tenet has in any decision it makes is on how it increases its profit margin and its value for shareholders.”
Murphy and the MNA will make the case that Tenet can easily afford to maintain the service, after the for-profit corporation received more than $2.6 billion in Federal and State COVID relief funding and after posting a profit of more than $695 million for 2020 and 2021 and has added an additional $97 million in profits for the first quarter of 2022, catapulting its stock price threefold.
Despite this largesse, Tenet has pursued an aggressive campaign to cut needed beds and services to the patients in Massachusetts, including its closure in October of all inpatient medical beds and the emergency department at MetroWest Medical Center’s Leonard Morse campus and the pediatric unit on the Framing Union campus. In 2021 it forced the longest strike by nurses in the state’s history to avoid providing safe staffing levels and, as a deliberate means of prolonging that strike, closed more than 100 beds at St. Vincent Hospital depriving the residents of that community desperately needed care during the height of the Omicron COVID surge. And at the same time it announced the closure of the oncology service at Framingham Union, Tenet eliminated its in-person interpreter service for a community where up to 40 percent of its residents speak a foreign language. “Shameful is too kind a word for these decisions,” according to Murphy’s testimony.
The DPH hearing is required under law to allow the public impacted by any closure to voice their concerns as part of the process for DPH to determine if the service to be closed is “essential” to the protection of public health for the community served by the hospital; and if it is, to require the hospital to either alter the plan, or to provide a detailed explanation of how those service will be delivered in the alternative.
Murphy’s testimony includes a warning to DPH to look at any plan or promises made by Tenet in lieu of this process with critical skepticism given Tenet’s checkered history. “Having worked with this corporation and Ms. Jackson (Tenet’s CEO) we can report that Tenet has shown limited ability to honor the agreements it reaches or the commitments it makes to those they serve,” according to Murphy’s testimony. “In fact, over the last 20 years this corporation has been subject to more than $1.6 billion in fines and penalties for all manner of fraud and corporate malfeasance.”
Murphy will use her testimony to raise public awareness of a glaring weakness in the state’s ability to adequately preserve all types of services deemed by DPH to be essential as the law does not grant DPH the authority to stop any closure. In fact, the MNA has tracked dozens of service closures in recent years by highly profitable hospital systems including the decision earlier this year by Tufts Medical Center to close its inpatient pediatric beds, the closure of more than 74 desperately needed adult and adolescent psychiatric beds at Providence Hospital in Holyoke last year, and most recently, the planned closure of the Birthing Center by Northeast Health Corporation and Beth Israel Lahey Health (a hearing on that closure will be held on July 20th).
“Right now, there is no mechanism in the state to allow the Department of Public Health or any other entity in the state to fully protect the public from any corporation that chooses to close any service, no matter how vital it is shown to be for the health and wellbeing of that community. The time has come to provide that authority under law,” Murphy will testify. “You can be sure that the MNA, with the support of other concerned residents and policy makers, will be advocating for the DPH to have the authority to move beyond just listening to communities crying desperately for help. The time has come for your critically important agency to finally have the power to make and enforce its decisions for the good of those communities.”