Nurse’s Union Leader Reports Lack of State Resolve to Keep Holy Family Hospital’s Haverhill Campus

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

The state may give up on Holy Family Hospital’s Haverhill campus amid Steward Health Care’s financial turmoil, a leader in the state nurse’s union told city councilors last night.

“Within the highest level of the administration, there is a resignation, that maybe it’s just not so important to worry about Haverhill surviving,” Massachusetts Nurse Association Statewide Director Dana Simon said he learned from private conversations with officials.

He said he recently noticed a subtle shift in the state’s initial promise to keep all Steward hospitals open. “If you parse some of their public statements, they’re starting to soften on that. They’re saying, ‘it’s our core concern to ensure as many of the hospitals as possible survive.’”

In his view, closing some hospitals over others is a political calculation. He asked councilors to write a letter to the governor and attorney general’s offices, saying, “It is not either politically, morally or ethically acceptable that any of these hospitals close. No community is less important than any other community.”

Simon was one of several advocates Julio Mejia, a community organizer for the Merrimack Valley Project, brought to the council meeting. Nurses, doctors and concerned citizens pointed to already-overflowing area hospitals and a reduced quality of care. They implored councilors to do all they could.

With some patients already waiting eight to 10 hours in Lawrence General Hospital’s emergency room, Dr. Tong Yan, a family medicine resident and union leader, said it would be “catastrophic for the … entire Merrimack Valley” if Holy Family’s Haverhill campus closed.

Lines sometimes go out the doors of a clinic meant for urgent care because “thousands” lack primary care doctors, said another family medicine resident and union leader, Dr. Romina Almada Gossweiler.

Yan added, “Furthermore, one of my patients with a broken hip and a potential blood infection needed to wait on a stretcher in the hallway in the emergency department for several days after being admitted to the hospital floor due to lack of space.”

Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski spoke to an eerily similar situation from the perspective of the patient’s family. After breaking her hip, her mother had to wait for eight hours on a stretcher “in the same hallway” before a room at Lawrence General became available. “Unless you are in that situation, with a loved one, waiting, you don’t understand the impact, and how gutting it can be,” she said. “That’s what it would be for everyone in our community.”

When the ambulance arrived after the injury, Lewandowski said the EMTs recommended going to the Lawrence hospital over Holy Family because her mother would need surgery. Similarly, Mejia read testimony from a Haverhill resident who had a stroke and went to Winchester Hospital, choosing to delay care over seeking help at Holy Family.

The nurses at the meeting emphasized their commitment to Haverhill and called on councilors to recognize their duty to the community. Tammy Danis MacLeod, whose grandkids mark the sixth generation of her family in the city, compared a hospital to basics like clean water. She appealed to local officials who were born in Haverhill.

“Like me, you stayed,” she said. “You chose to serve, in some capacity, the people of Haverhill. You care for our city as public officials like I care for my patients as a nurse.”

School Committee member Yonnie Collins, also a registered nurse at Holy Family, urged councilors to protect the community that voted them into office. Another nurse said many of her neighbors in the Mount Washington area don’t own cars and already have enough trouble getting to Holy Family, let alone Lawrence General.

City Councilors voted to send a letter to Attorney General Andrea Campbell, Gov. Maura T. Healey, Haverhill’s legislative delegation and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh. Lewandowski suggested they add the state should consider an eminent domain taking.

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