Steward Health Care System said Tuesday it will now keep the emergency room at Quincy Medical Center open even as it shutters other services in the building in the coming weeks.
The hospital chain’s announcement followed warnings earlier in the day from Attorney General Martha Coakley and Quincy officials that they would sue Steward, if necessary, to keep an emergency room in the city. Quincy Medical Center receives about 30,000 emergency room visits a year — more than 80 a day.
“It is our hope that there will be uninterrupted emergency services,” Steward spokeswoman Brooke Thurston said.
Owned by a New York private equity firm, the for-profit hospital chain expects to close Quincy Medical Center soon, prompting a backlash from city officials and residents. On Tuesday, Steward said it plans to transfer the license for the emergency room to Carney Hospital, a facility it owns in nearby Dorchester, which would allow the chain to continue those operations in Quincy. The company has notified the Department of Public Health of its plan, but has yet to submit an application.
Anne Roach, a DPH spokeswoman, said the department will conduct an expedited review when it receives Steward’s application.
“Individual hospital services cannot be discontinued without final approval by DPH,” Roach added.
Quincy Medical Center had struggled well before Steward bought the 196-bed hospital out of bankruptcy three years ago. The company said it poured $100 million into the facility, yet it continued to lose money and patients. Steward has not set an exact date for the hospital closing, although people in Quincy are bracing for it to happen within the next few weeks.
Many residents in Quincy, with a population of about 93,000, are upset about losing their hospital and are especially concerned about the specter of not having emergency services within the city. At a public hearing in December, Steward executives said they would continue to provide care through a new 24-hour urgent care center and two other clinics, all in Quincy. But they did not discuss plans for emergency services.
Steward is proceeding with the closing even though the company had signed an agreement with Coakley to keep the hospital open until at least 2017. Politicians from Quincy have blasted Steward for reneging on that contract. Coakley has not yet taken any action against Steward.
Coakley said Tuesday that she would consider legal action if Steward fails to keep emergency services open, and if it impedes access to a Veterans Affairs clinic, currently located inside Quincy Medical Center.
“The closure of emergency services on December 31 is unacceptable,” said Coakley spokesman Christopher Loh. “We also believe Steward should ensure VA services continue for those veterans who are being served by QMC and provide many of the community benefits that it now offers. We have made clear to Steward that any resolution with our office will need to include those measures or we will pursue our legal options.”
Quincy officials have hired a lawyer to explore legal options.
“The city is exploring all possible avenues, including legal action if necessary, particularly with respect to protecting emergency room services,” said Peter F. Carr II, a lawyer at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC in Boston.
VA officials are looking for a new space for the clinic in Quincy, Braintree, and Weymouth.
“We’ll stay as long as possible so we can continue uninterrupted convenient care to the veterans,” said Pallas Wahl, a spokeswoman for VA Boston Healthcare System.