STOUGHTON — Financially troubled Steward Health Care aims to close New England Sinai Hospital in two months. But if there’s widespread local worry about that decision, it didn’t show at a state-mandated public hearing. Only one resident took up the offer to speak.
About 50 people, at least 10 of them from the media, attended the hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 31. It was held on NESH’s campus on York Street. Lifetime Stoughton resident Cynthia Walsh, a former selectman, said NESH offers the kind of acute long-term care that Stoughton’s older-than-average population needs. About 20% of Stoughton residents are 65 or older, according to recent Census data. That’s about 1% more than the state average.
“I don’t think it’s possible to replicate what we have here,” said Walsh, who said NESH had given excellent care to two of her father’s sisters: one who broke her hip and another who suffered from both a broken neck and advanced dementia.
Specialty hospital for rehab, long-term care
NESH is not a general hospital. It’s a specialty hospital for rehabilitation and acute long-term care.
“The thing that I fear the most is our healthcare choices are becoming more and more limited in this area,” Walsh said.
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Why does Steward want to close Sinai?
Justine E. DeFronzo, president of the hospital, spoke before the public comment period. She laid out the reasons Steward wants to close the facility.
“Unfortunately, staffing shortages, increased costs for labor and materials and delayed prior authorizations, coupled with low Medicare reimbursement rates, have caused financial distress for the hospital,” DeFronzo said. “Over the last five years, these factors have decimated NESH’s financial performance.”
Steward, the for-profit network that owns NESH and other Bay State hospitals including Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, previously had said NESH was operating at less than 40% capacity since January 2022. It is licensed for 158 beds.
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What will happen to the patients?
DeFronzo said all Sinai’s patients will either return home or go to facilities with a lower level of care by the expected closure date of April 2.
Walsh, the lone public commenter, expressed skepticism.
“I find it remarkable that they’ll be able to take these patients who are in considerably worse shape to other facilities across the state,” said the elected town meeting representative from Precinct 3.
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What happens from here?
Regulators will decide within 15 days of the hearing if the services Steward aims to close are “necessary for preserving access and health status in the hospital’s service area,” said Stephen Davis, director of the state’s Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification.
If they do conclude the services are necessary, the hospital will have another 15 days to submit a plan to ensure continued access to those services. The state could then either accept the plan or seek further responses from the hospital.
Can state regulators require a hospital to remain open?
No, Massachusetts regulators cannot legally require a hospital to keep a service open, however, according to the Department of Health’s website.