June 20, 2024

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Mass. sets up emergency Steward response system

State officials have launched an incident command system as they brace for health care service disruptions in eastern Massachusetts amid the financial turmoil at Steward Health Care.

The system, announced Friday morning, will enable better coordination across state agencies, hospitals, community health centers, community service organizations, and labor groups, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said. Officials say the structure is meant to safeguard care and services at Steward hospitals, as well as respond to any “transitions in care” that could create cascading effects for regional health care access.

The command system “incorporates the ongoing external monitoring in all Steward hospitals,” which began in January, Department of Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein said, and “enables DPH to rapidly respond to any clinical needs or issues that arise, and fosters increased communication with other regional health care organizations, first responders and community leaders.”

DPH monitors in Steward hospitals continue to assess whether facilities “have the necessary supplies, equipment and staffing to deliver safe and effective care.” State officials stressed that Steward’s hospitals in Massachusetts remain open and are providing care.

The incident command system will be helmed by Dr. Gregg Meyer, senior vice president for quality and safety at Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. Meyer has “extensive experience in hospital operations and crisis management,” officials said.

Dr. Gregg Meyer, senior vice president for quality and safety at Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. (Mass General Brigham via SHNS)
Dr. Gregg Meyer, senior vice president for quality and safety at Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. (Mass General Brigham via SHNS)

“This week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health activated its Emergency Operation Plan as part of our ongoing commitment to ensure patient safety, protect access to care and preserve jobs,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh said in a statement. “This next step is part of our continued response to Steward Health Care’s financial challenges.”

State officials last month began holding private meetings with local health care leaders to help navigate the uncertainty around the Steward crisis, a step that Walsh said should be “very reassuring” to those concerned about preparation for disruption

Walsh told reporters that the planning would focus on patients and staff.

“Remember, lots of staff are working in hospitals that they know are financially troubled. We want to support them on that journey,” she said.

During a Senate oversight hearing last week, Walsh said officials were preparing for Steward to potentially file for bankruptcy and acknowledged there had been some discussion of receivership.

While Walsh said officials were prepared to respond to the Steward crisis, she also described the murky future of the for-profit hospital system.

“We still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen,” Walsh told the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee. “But we have a prepared, thoughtful, coordinated response.

Walsh also noted they are tailoring responses to each region or hospital. “We also know that the issues in Taunton are different than the issues in Methuen,” she said.

Health care workers say they also have little clarity about Steward’s future, even as the company faced a deadline this week in connection with its plan to shore up its finances.

Health care providers and community members rallied outside Steward’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton on Monday in their bid to keep the facility open.

“Our members are really concerned that the hospitals will close,” said Cari Medina, vice president for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. “They’re super concerned about Steward declaring bankruptcy, they want to know what happens to their jobs. But more importantly, they care about each other and their community, because this will affect patients too.”

Steward operates eight hospitals in Massachusetts: St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton, Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Holy Family Hospital in Methuen and Haverhill Hospital in Haverhill, Morton Hospital in Taunton, Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer, Norwood Hospital, and St. Anne’s in Fall River.

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