Noble ICU averages one patient daily, says Bryant

Residents, city officials, and medical professionals attended Wednesday’s public hearing at Westfield Middle School. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) hosted a public hearing about the proposed closure of the Baystate Noble Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Pediatric Care Unit (PCU) Wednesday afternoon at Westfield Middle School.

During the meeting, Baystate Noble Hospital President Ron Bryant detailed the hospital’s plan and reasoning for closing the two units. Bryant said that the beds would be designated as medical surgical beds after the closure.

“For the past several years, the most critically ill patients at Baystate Noble have been transferred to Baystate Medical Center, another affiliate of Baystate Health,” said Bryant, “Baystate Medical Center is the system’s tertiary care hospital where there is a team of physicians who specialize in the care of critically ill patients, and where there is a full range of physician specialists to care for those patients.”

Bryant noted that the Noble ICU typically has a low patient count with an average daily occupancy of one patient. He argued that the patients that do need the ICU or PCU will receive better care at the medical center in Springfield.

Bryant then said that there has not been a pediatric patient in the PCU in years, thanks to changes in the way pediatric care is delivered.

The DPH held the session to hear the concerns of residents who were unhappy with the plan. Baystate Health previously announced that there were plans to close all six beds in both the ICU and PCU. Baystate also said that they planned to close the ICU at Wing Hospital in Palmer. In February, Baystate announced the planned closure of the mental health units in Noble, Wing, and Baystate Franklin Hospital in Greenfield. If it moves forward, the Noble ICU closure would go into effect on Aug. 30 of this year.

The hearing began with a statement from Sherman Lohnes, director of the Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification at the DPH. He outlined the process for the DPH to accept or deny Baystate Health’s proposal. After hearing from residents, hospital officials, and town officials during the hearing, the DPH will have 15 days to render a decision.

After the DPH ruling, if they choose to allow the closure, Baystate Health will have 15 days to ensure the DPH that the PCU and ICU services can still be provided to Noble’s coverage area. After receiving a plan from Baystate, the DPH will have 10 days to approve or deny.

City Council President Ralph J. Figy voiced his opposition to the closure of the ICU, but he agreed that the PCU is not a priority to remain open if it is not being used. His concern with an ICU closure is that the surrounding communities that are not as close to Springfield will be impacted more than Westfield.

“Baystate Noble does not just serve the city of Westfield. It is the surrounding communities that are a half-hour out of Westfield that I am concerned about as well,” said Figy.

Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) and Registered Nurse Donna Kelly-Williams argued that the extra time to drive between Westfield and Springfield is too long for patients with severe medical issues.

“The ICU at Noble is a vital part of the hospital and the community it serves,” said Kelly-Williams, “Many patients rely on the ICU. Patients who need the critical care at the moment they need it. Minutes, even seconds, count when a patient requires ICU-level care.”

Kelly-Williams added that she sees the closure as a symptom of a larger problem in the hospital industry, with companies like Baystate having closed 27 hospitals or units in the last 10 years in Massachusetts.

Several Westfield residents voiced their opposition to the closure. One man spoke about how the ICU being in Westfield saved his wife’s life earlier this year. Another woman noted that BMC can be hard to get to and even harder to navigate once there. Another resident said that he found it odd that the hearing was held at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday while most people would still be in work.

One woman told the story of how her mom was very ill back in 2012. They had to call an ambulance, on which she had to be stabilized and barely made it to Noble Hospital. The woman said that if her mother had been brought to Springfield instead, she likely would not have made it.

Gail Bean, RN and part of the MNA, told a similar story about a loved one who needed the ICU in Westfield. She said that she did not know what would have happened if they did not have the ICU in Noble. She decried what she said was the turning of hospitals into purely corporate enterprises. 

Westfield City Councilor Mary Ann Babinski also spoke in support of keeping the ICU open. She said she sees the closure of the ICU and the Fowler mental health unit as affecting the area beyond Westfield. She asked Baystate officials to seriously consider what they were doing before they made what she called a “drastic move.”

Donna Stern, RN at Baystate Franklin’s mental health unit who was also present at the forum to discuss the Fowler  closure, urged people to call their legislators and voice their support of the Essential Services Bill. The bill would require more public oversight when a hospital chooses to close a unit that has been deemed an essential service.

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