State Places Monitors at Holy Family; Trahan Pushes ‘Essential Health System’ Plan

Haverhill campus of Holy Family Hospital. (WHAV News photograph.)

Expressing uncertainty about the future of safety-net hospitals owned by Steward Health Care, Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein said Wednesday state overseers will expand their monitoring of all nine facilities by next week in their bid to protect patient safety and quality.

Goldstein said Department of Public Health surveyors have already been paying daily visits for “several weeks” to Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and Methuen, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. Steward’s hospitals serve primarily low-income vulnerable residents who have public health insurance coverage. Surveyors added Carney Hospital in Dorchester and Morton Hospital in Taunton to their list of monitoring visits this week as Steward grapples with major financial problems that have prompted fears about potential facility closures.

Goldstein told the Public Health Council Wednesday morning, “We’re talking with hospitals and leaders from across Massachusetts, recognizing that what happens at Steward facilities will have impacts on emergency departments, inpatient facilities and ambulatory clinics across the state.”

On Thursday, Congresswoman Lori Trahan, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, and Congressman David Valadao introduced the Reinforcing Essential Health Systems for Communities Act, bipartisan legislation that would establish an “essential health system” designation in federal law, creating opportunity for more federal funding and support to flow to safety net hospitals that traditionally support more uninsured and low-income patients.

Hospitals would qualify as “essential health systems” by serving a “disproportionate” portion of Medicaid and low-income Medicare patients, demonstrating a commitment to serving a high percentage of Medicaid and low-income patients or provides uncompensated care. Under this definition, more than 1,000 hospitals nationwide and 18 hospitals in Massachusetts would be designated as “essential health systems” and made eligible for additional federal support, including Lowell General Hospital and Lawrence General Hospital.

At Holy Family and other Steward hospitals, Goldstein said, monitors are evaluating staffing levels, services, supplies and equipment to “assess that the hospital has what it needs and is required to have to deliver safe and high-quality care in each of the facilities.”

Goldstein, addressing speculation that additional Steward hospitals may close, said, “The bottom line is at this time, we do not know what the future of Steward hospitals will be…It’s likely that there will need to be some reorganization, reconfiguration, transition and potential closures for Steward hospitals and the health care they deliver.” He described uncertainty about hospital closures and a shifting health care landscape as “unsettling” and “unnerving.”

Gov. Maura Healey, addressing the council during its virtual meeting, invoked her past experience dealing with Steward as attorney general. “In fact, as attorney general, we aggressively sought greater transparency and disclosure from this entity,” Healey said, reflecting on her office taking Steward to court to seek financial information.

Alison Kuznitz, State House News Service, provided the bulk of this report.

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