WESTFIELD- Baystate Noble Hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) closed today following a lengthy process in which the Department of Public Health (DPH) required Baystate to show that ICU access would not be lost to those in Noble’s coverage area.
Baystate Health announced in May that they would be converting their six ICU beds and six pediatric care unit (PCU) beds into standard medical or surgical beds. The DPH found that the access to the ICU was a necessity for healthcare access in the area. Their finding came after a June 19 public hearing at Westfield Middle School, where residents and city officials mainly voiced their opposition to the closure.
“The ICU at Noble is a vital part of the hospital and the community it serves,” said Donna Kelly-Williams, a Registered Nurse in the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), “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.”
Noble Hospital President Ron Bryant noted during the June public hearing that Noble’s ICU averages about one patient per day.
Much of the pushback from residents came from people who wondered what would come of the hilltowns. Much of the hilltowns are covered by Noble Hospital, but the closure now makes the closest ICU Baystate Medical Center (BMC) in Springfield. Baystate officials said that BMC will now be the primary ICU for the area, and all patients in need of an ICU will be transferred there.
“Baystate Noble is transitioning its six Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds to medical/surgical beds on Aug. 30, 2019. With that change, all patients from our community requiring ICU level care will be treated at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield,” said Maura Tobias, public affairs and community relations specialist for Baystate Noble in a statement, “The vast majority of patients requiring true ICU specialty care are already being transported directly by ambulance to Baystate Medical Center or are transferred there shortly after being stabilized at Baystate Noble.”
Part of the process required by the DPH was for Baystate to give a detailed outline as to how proper healthcare access would be maintained following the closure. In the letters between Baystate and the DPH, Bryant said that patients fitting certain criteria would be sent to the ICU in Springfield rather than being treated in Noble.
The drive from Blandford to Noble Hospital is 16 minutes depending where in Blandford the patient lives. The drive from Blandford to BMC in Springfield is 36 minutes with minimal traffic.
Patients that would be transferred include patients requiring vasopressors to maintain blood pressure, patients requiring manual ventilation, Patients requiring IV medications with monitoring of vitals every 1-2 hours, labs, and adjustment of the IV drip rate, and Patients requiring hourly intervention.
“We have serious concerns about the ICU closures’ effect on patients throughout the region. Patients who can currently receive ICU-level care at Noble will be put at risk when facing additional transportation time to Springfield or other locations. Baystate promised to preserve and improve healthcare services in local communities.” Said Joe Markman of the MNA, “We call on Baystate executives to uphold those promises and its non-profit mission to provide quality healthcare to all members of its communities. With the onset of the closure, we urge Baystate to make sure nurse training and staffing levels are appropriate to the level of ICU care that patients will need in the emergency department awaiting transport.”
Members of the public and the MNA have voiced their concerns over a recent trend by Noble to close departments or cut back department hours within the hospital.
“Noble management announced last week that the operating room will be closing on Fridays. Management said that it’s because of anesthesia coverage and efficiency, but the nurses and techs say that’s not the case.” Said Markman, “We demanded to bargain over this and are awaiting response. Baystate Franklin management notified us that they’ll be going to a 4-day OR schedule, too. We demanded to bargain there as well. We are seeking Baystate’s rationale for the reduced schedule at BFMC.”
In April, Baystate announced that Noble Hospital’s Fowler Mental Health Unit would be closing in favor of a larger mental health facility being built in Holyoke. A public forum was held in the Westfield Athenaeum following the announcement, and local residents, including State Representative John Velis and Mayor Brian Sullivan, largely voiced their opposition.