EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 22, 2013

Holy Family to close medical surgical unit

Hospital trying to minimize job losses

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Holy Family Hospital is closing one of its medical/surgical units this month because of a drop in volume, hospital and union officials said.

Russell Hall, a general medical/surgical floor, will be “flexed down” on June 28, officials said, meaning it will be closed unless and until demand increases enough to justify opening it again. Closure of the unit will not affect the number of inpatient beds at Holy Family, and hospital and union officials will negotiate to minimize job losses, hospital officials said.

“Our other medical/surgical units have enough capacity for our current patient volume as well as capacity for volume increases,” Lester Schindel, president of Holy Family Hospital, said in a letter sent this week to employees. “Caring for patients on our other medical/surgical units will have no impact on clinical care or access to inpatient beds for patients in our emergency department.”

Schindel said the decision was based on a drop in volume for inpatient surgical procedures. Many procedures now can be done in an outpatient setting due to advances in minimally-invasive types of surgery.

“As a result, hospitals, including Holy Family, are experiencing an increase in outpatient volumes and a decrease in inpatient volumes,” Schindel wrote in his letter.

He also said low payments from Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health insurance for low-income people, and automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect in March forced the hospital to “identify operational efficiencies that enable us to maintain clinical services in this challenging payment environment.”

The change will result in some staff reductions, though the number will not be finalized until the hospital determines, through talks with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and 1199 Service Employees International Union, which workers will be moved to other units, which workers could retire, and which could take a buyout.

“Right now, 1199SEIU members at Holy Family Hospital are engaged in the contractual process while continuing to be focused on ensuring quality care, and saving jobs where possible,” Enid Eckstein, vice president of 1199SEIU, said in a written statement.

Anna Frankenfield, a spokeswoman for Holy Family, said the change will result in a reduction of staff.

“However, our hospital continues to grow and we have a significant number of open positions,” she said. “We will be working closely with the impacted individuals to match them with one of the many open positions.”

Schindel and Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for Steward Health Care, which owns and operates Holy Family, said the unit typically will flex down in the summer and during low-volume times. But there is no date for reopening the unit, and officials with both the hospital and the unions said reopening would depend completely on volume.

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