FRAMINGHAM – After almost three months of ruminating on the MetroWest Medical Center controversial plans to close some of its outpatient oncology wards, dozens of community members prepared to give scathing testimony during a state hearing Wednesday.
But in an 11th-hour shift, corporate management at MetroWest Medical Center announced the hospital was in talks with Tufts Medicine to continue providing various oncology services at its Framingham campus.
The announcement – made during a state public health department hearing on the closure of essential hospital services – marked the latest in a month-long saga that put the community hospital in the spotlight.
“Our community deserves better”
Declining demand for oncology infusion and radiation oncology services contributed to MetroWest Medical Center’s decision to close those services and focus on other areas, according to Carolyn Jackson, Massachusetts Market CEO for the owner. from Tenet Healthcare Hospital.
The initial April announcement was condemned by state and local leaders, who cited the impact on patients who cannot travel greater distances for treatment, either because they are too ill or because they can’t afford it.
However, Jackson announced at Wednesday’s hearing that the hospital was in exclusive negotiations for Tufts Medicine to provide oncology services at MetroWest Medical Center, with hematology oncology, radiation oncology and infusion services. being discussed.
Services would be based at the Framingham Union Hospital campus and provided by Tufts, although Tufts could choose to hire healthcare workers previously employed by MetroWest Medical Center, Jackson told the Daily News.
“Most importantly, MetroWest Medical Center is committed to ensuring that this process is as seamless and as comfortable as possible for its patients,” she said in her remarks.
The news came as a welcome surprise to many who fought the proposed closures, though it wasn’t enough to ward off criticism of Tenet’s long-term plans for the community hospital.
“I am not an activist; I am a doctor,” MWMC doctor Dr David Rishikof said before his remarks. Addressing the hospital management, he cracked up: “I don’t know; has the ink dried on this deal?
“Our property, Tenet, I don’t argue with them,” Rishikof continued. “But I will hold them accountable and I will hold them accountable for the decisions they make.”
He attributed the decline in outpatient oncology visits to underinvestment and underresourcing on the part of Tenet.
“Our community deserves better,” Rishikof said. “Our community deserves to be close to home when being treated for cancer. »
“They saved my life”
Several current and former cancer patients spoke at the hearing, praising the staff at MetroWest Medical Center and the care they provided.
Marlborough resident Ellen Goldsmith said she decided to check out the MWMC after hearing it was a regional destination for oncology, “and frankly they saved my life”.
Goldsmith and his wife, Reverend Doreen C. Noble, were both diagnosed with cancer the same year.
“The possible closure of the cancer center has been traumatic for us,” Noble said.
She added: “We both have a long fight ahead of us, but what was important was that we could have the support, we could be treated… with honour, with dignity.”
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Natick resident Kathleen Demko, a former MWMC nurse, described the role the hospital’s cancer center has played for her brother, who has stage four kidney cancer.
“Without the center here in Framingham, I don’t know how he will have hope,” she said.
Closing services would pose significant risks to the health and well-being of residents, imposing economic and emotional hardship on those forced to travel for treatment, Senate Speaker Karen Spilka said.
“Anyone who has been faced with a cancer diagnosis or has had a family member faced with a cancer diagnosis knows that treatment is most effective when patients can receive it in their community, close to loved ones and without stress or having to deal with difficult commuting, as well as scheduling their dates and everything that is involved in between,” she said.
The potential partnership between MetroWest Medical Center and Tufts Medicine is “a critical step for our region,” she added, thanking the hospital for hearing community feedback and adjusting its course.
Framingham Mayor Charlie Sisitsky said he was still processing news of the deal with Tufts Medicine and hoped the plan would be “as successful as it looks”.
However, he went on to read the remarks he had prepared before the hearing, taking Tenet to task for lackluster community relations.
“This latest development represents a further erosion of the hospital’s connection to the community,” he said. “The elimination of Blood bankelimination of (internally) interpretation services and the elimination of community liaison are all symptoms of MetroWest Medical Center’s parent company turning its back on our community.
Earlier in the meeting, Jackson announced that the hospital is restoring its “oft-praised community relations liaison role” this summer, and that this individual will be tasked with ensuring that MWMC’s new CEO, David Elgaricois connected with key community figures and organizations.
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When it comes to a community hospital, those local ties are important, according to Framingham Councilor John Stefanini.
There is a “deep commitment” to Framingham Hospital, he said, urging Tenet to reach out to the community to find support for its programs and services.
“We’re thrilled to hear about Tufts, … but we need to use this as a learning experience and hopefully encourage Tenet and the community to have a stronger voice through its board of directors. the hospital, through his liaison, through his new CEO,” Stefanini said. .
City Council Speaker Philip Ottaviani also emphasized community engagement, saying of the Tufts deal: “It’s great news, but Tenet needs to know where we stand. “