UMass Memorial Health will shut down the inpatient maternity ward at its Leominster campus in the fall, a hospital official said, a move that drew swift condemnation by state legislators who represent the region and plan to protest next week.
Citing “industry-wide workforce shortages” and “the steadily declining number of births in North Central Massachusetts,” UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Clinton Hospital President Steve Roach said the hospital has notified the state Department of Public Health that it intends to close the birthing unit on Sept. 22. The plan must be approved by regulators.
“This was an especially difficult decision for our health system, as our compassionate caregivers have helped thousands of parents and families navigate the birthing journey and welcome new loved ones into their lives for so many decades,” Roach said in a statement.
Roach said the staffing shortage has “exacerbated the challenges of fully staffing our maternity inpatient unit consistently ... despite our persistent attempts to recruit and retain clinicians in this region.” And the declining birth rate, he said, “has a significant impact on our unit’s future capacity to provide labor and delivery care to our patients.”
Members of the state delegation representing Leominster and the surrounding region were united in their response to the announcement Friday morning. A rally to stop the closure is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the corner of Nelson and North Main streets in Leominster, near the hospital.
State Senator John J. Cronin, a Lunenburg Democrat, blasted the hospital’s decision to close the unit, calling the move “an unjustified decision” that puts the health of mothers and their newborns at risk.
“This will result in our most marginalized families without access to reliable transportation forced to deliver babies in the overcrowded Leominster emergency department or on the side of the highway on their way to Gardner or Worcester,” Cronin said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
“Over the past decade, North Central has endured UMass Memorial’s closure of the mental health and urgent care center at Burbank Hospital in Fitchburg, endoscopy and ambulatory services from Clinton, cardiac and pulmonary rehab and inpatient pediatric unit in Leominster. Enough is enough.”
The joint statement by Cronin and Representatives Natalie Higgins, Meg Kilcoyne, Mike Kushmerek, Kimberly Ferguson, Margaret Scarsdale, and Jonathan Zlotnik said “no other alternative will be acceptable” besides maintaining maternal health care services in the region, according to State House News Service.