Hearing on pediatric unit will trigger DPH process
BOSTON (SHNS) – A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday evening into the planned closure of the inpatient pediatric units at Tufts Children’s Hospital in downtown Boston.
Tufts Medical Center announced the closure plans, which have a July 1 target date, in January, alongside plans to send pediatric patients who need hospitalization to Boston Children’s Hospital under a new collaboration.
The announcement said Tufts plans “to convert its 41 Tufts Children’s Hospital pediatric inpatient beds to much-needed adult ICU and medical/surgical beds, increasing its capacity to care for critically ill adults at its Tufts Medical Center campus.”
In a 90-day service closure notice sent to the state Department of Public Health this month, Tufts Medical Center President Dr. Michael Tarnoff wrote that the pediatric inpatient beds and pediatric intensive care unit are “underutilized,” operating well below capacity.
“The Medical Center understands the concern and inconvenience it creates for some patients and their families, however it does not anticipate significant impact,” Tarnoff wrote. “Comparable services are available at other hospitals, including but not limited to, Boston Children’s Hospital.”
The DPH is required to hold a public hearing on the proposed closure of a hospital essential service. After the hearing, the department has 15 days to provide the hospital with a determination of whether the service is “necessary for preserving access and health status within the hospital’s service area.”
If the service is deemed necessary, the hospital has 15 days from the finding to submit a plan for assuring access. The DPH cannot legally require a hospital to keep a service open.
Attorney General Maura Healey said Monday that while she does not have direct authority over the issue, her office has been in communication with both Tufts and Children’s.
“The concern is what’s going to happen to these young patients and how are they and their families going to be able to be assured of the care that they need,” Healey said on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” “And that is a setting I know that provides a lot of services to a number of low-income families and low-income children, and we want to do everything we can to make sure those needs are met.”
Healey’s comments came in response to a question sent via text from a Tufts nurse, asking if she was aware of the effects the bed closures would have “on an already underserved community.”
Healey said that her mother was a nursing instructor at Tufts and that she is also concerned “about what’s going to happen with respect to some of the wonderful caregivers and providers who are providing that care.”
In a Feb. 17 open letter to families, pediatrician-in-chief Dr. Geoffrey Binney wrote that the hospital is “working hard to keep your care teams in place at Tufts or, if necessary, to help them find opportunities to continue to care for you within Wellforce or at BCH.”
Other than when a child needs overnight care, “the vast majority of services currently available at Tufts will remain open and unchanged,” he wrote, including the pediatric emergency department, Center for Children with Special Needs, adolescent medicine clinic, general pediatric and Asian clinics, outpatient surgery, a 40-bed neonatal intensive care unit and community-based services.
Conference call access is available for the 6 p.m. Thursday hearing.