While Holy Family Hospital Campuses Remain Open, Leaders Seek Details of Next Steps

Holy Family Hospital, Haverhill campus, during the pandemic.

Employees, union leaders and elected and appointed officials are asking for details about Steward Health Care System’s proposed financing plan and possible spinoff of Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and Methuen, among others.

As early as last Wednesday, WHAV reported Haverhill City Council President Thomas J. Sullivan’s sharing of information that the local hospital would remain open. On Friday, Steward Executive Vice President Michael Callum confirmed the report, saying in an email to employees, the company secured “bridge financing” which helps buy “the time needed for Steward to consider transferring one or more of our hospitals to other operators.”

Congresswoman Lori Trahan asked Friday for a timetable and other details.

“I’m glad that families in Haverhill, Methuen, the Nashoba Valley and beyond can go to sleep tonight knowing their community hospital will still be open in the morning. These are critical facilities that people depend on for all types of care, and Steward executives owe it to their 40,000-plus patients and 16,000 employees in Massachusetts to be absolutely clear about what the next steps are. These families deserve to know the timeline for this bridge funding, the details of this transaction, and what it means for the future of care in the Commonwealth,” she said in a statement.

Massachusetts Nurses Association President Katie Murphy expressed relief over the deal, but signaled more discussion is needed to respond to the crisis. The union represents 3,000 nurses and health care professionals at eight Steward hospitals.

“We are relieved to see that a deal has been reached to temporarily preserve access to desperately needed health care services provided by the hospitals owned by Steward Health Care, as the loss of any hospital or service at this time would be devastating for the vulnerable communities served by these facilities,” Murphy said. “While we appreciate this temporary reprieve, decisions must be made in the coming weeks to ensure the orderly transition of Steward facilities so that these communities continue to receive the care they need and that surrounding hospitals are not overwhelmed by the prospect of potential closures.”

United Healthcare Workers East, 1199 SEIU Executive Vice President Tim Foley said his union’s workers also welcomed the news and added that it “will provide additional time to create a long-term solution to preserve community care across the Commonwealth.” He said the union remains “ready to work with the Healey-Driscoll administration, the Massachusetts legislature and all stakeholders to ensure that Massachusetts patients can continue to receive quality care in the community hospitals they know from the caregivers they trust.”

State Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh said Gov. Maura Healey’s administration is “keeping in close contact with Steward regarding all aspects of their operations, with specific attention to the patient care and access challenges created by their financial situation.”

Since Wednesday, surveyors with the Department of Public Health have been conducting daily on-site visits at three of Steward’s hospitals: Good Samaritan Medical Center, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, which has campuses in both Methuen and Haverhill. Officials have been reviewing hospital staffing, daily patient census and supplies and services provided, according to the Healey administration.

The state is also conducting “planning and capacity analysis” that involves determining other providers’ capacity for patients and staff, according to a Health and Human Services press release. “The administration is not only looking at data; as future prospects become clearer for different facilities, we will also seek community input to ensure regional needs are met.”

The Joint Committee on Public Health solicited written testimony this week on a Rep. Natalie Higgins proposal that would block hospital services from shutting down for three years should the Department of Public Health decide that the proposed closure is “necessary for preserving access and health status in the hospital’s service area” following a public hearing.

State House News Service’s Alison Kuznitz and Chris Lisinski contributed reporting.

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