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Coakley seeks to negotiate over hospital closure

Steward Health Care System has agreed to keep the struggling Quincy Medical Center open as late as Feb. 4 to comply with a state law that requires hospitals to give 90 days’ notice and hold a public hearing before closing.

Additionally, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office said Tuesday it has offered to negotiate with Steward Health Care System over its plans to close the Quincy Medical Center despite an agreement the health care firm had with the attorney general’s office to keep the hospital open through at least 2017.

When Steward bought Quincy Medical Center out of bankruptcy in 2011, it agreed to keep the hospital open for at least 6½ years and give 18 months’ notice if it had to close.

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In a letter to the for-profit health care company, the attorney general applauded “positive developments” made by Steward, such as postponing the planned closing date from Dec. 31 to Feb. 4. Although Coakley’s office said it disagreed with Steward’s plans to close the hospital, the letter said the attorney general would not immediately file suit against the company and would “evaluate” Steward’s claims that its agreement with the state needs to be amended because of the hospital’s continuing financial losses.

“Although we do not agree with many of your contentions, this office is willing to discuss your contentions prior to pressing our contractual rights in court,” the letter said.

The Feb. 4 closing date was set after discussions between Steward and the Department of Public Health, which oversees hospitals. A letter sent by Steward to the department on Monday said if patient demand were to dry up before February, it would seek the department’s permission to close the hospital as early as December. By that point, the letter said, Steward will have opened freestanding urgent-care centers to serve Quincy residents.

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Steward did not provide details on how it will proceed with closing, such as when it may shut down certain departments, or on its negotiations with state officials. In a statement, Steward said it anticipated patient volume would drop “significantly” by the end of the year, and said it would remain open until February “as need be.” Steward said a public hearing is set for Dec. 2.

“We will be winding down operations in consultation with the Department of Public Health to ensure patient safety throughout this process,” said Brooke Thurston, a spokeswoman for the company.

Steward said this month that it wanted to close Quincy Medical Center at the end of 2014 because the high number of competing hospitals made it impossible to earn a profit. The shutdown will displace at least 545 employees.


Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.