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Harrington to NVMC: "You’re Leaving Us High & Dry"

Steward Health Care Closed the ICU at Nashoba Valley Medical Center on Thursday, April
by Russell Harris
Steward Health Care closed the ICU at the Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer until further notice on Thursday, April 2. Now, the company wants to send these ICU nurses to Carney Hospital in Dorchester, more than 30 miles away, to treat Covid-19 patients there.
     Groton representative Sheila Harrington said that closing the ICU is not good for Groton. On a phone call with Steward Health care on Friday April 3, Harrington told Steward executives, “By taking our nurses from the ICU and putting them in hospitals that have more concentrated populations, you’re leaving us high and dry.”
     Audrey Sprague an ICU nurse, says she and her team have been treating Covid-19 patients and that closing the NVMC ICU, “just doesn't even make a bit of sense. Why would you close six ICU beds here with negative pressure rooms and have critical care nurses sitting at home? I can't understand that.”
     For now, the nurses who worked at the Nashoba Valley ICU won’t be working at Carney Hospital anytime soon due to concerns about working conditions and travel. Among other concerns, N95 masks are not always available for nurses at Carney Hospital, says Sprague.
     Harrington said she is worried that without a nearby ICU, seriously ill patients will need to be transferred to other facilities and that the process of transferring very sick patients adds considerable risk to already tenuous health emergencies.
     She added that since Groton’s population skews older, its people are more likely to die from Covid-19 than younger populations.
     Harrington explained that Nashoba Valley Medical Center said even though the ICU was shutdown, they would maintain a "critical care nursing presence" at the hospital with ER nurses having intubation and other skills needed to stabilize seriously ill patients. But once stabilized, they would need to be sent to another hospital.
     She said that means they won’t have the resources to care for critically ill people. “When you're talking about intensive care medicine, there's all sorts of machinery and things that are actually only in the intensive care unit that are not on the floors that could be needed to save someone's life,”she said. She does not know if Steward was planning on removing ICU healthcare equipment such as ventilators to their other hospitals, but that it is a reasonable assumption.
     Rep. Harrington said she could not understand why Steward would close their ICU when one of the earliest Massachusetts Covid-19 deaths was from Ayer. She added that just this last weekend people from Lifecare of Nashoba Valley had died and might have gone to NVMC for treatment.
     Rep. Harrington said that besides treatment for the Covid-19 virus, she asked Steward executives, “What would happen to victims of a terrible car accident without an ICU?” She said the question was met with uncomfortable silence and then the conversation was abruptly terminated with Steward executives saying, “We have another commitment, so we can't answer any more questions.”
     Harrington advised, ‘If you feel like someone is in very critical condition and needs to go to the hospital, it might be worth asking first responders to take the person to another area hospital because you're only going to be a layover at Nashoba, because they can't keep the patient.”
     Commenting on the ICU closure, State Senator Edward Kennedy said, “In the midst of a public health crisis larger than any we have seen in our lifetimes, while community hospitals around the world are scrambling to increase their ICU capacity and canceling elective surgeries, Steward Health Care has chosen to close the ICU at Nashoba Valley Medical Center and continue performing elective surgeries there. That is completely unacceptable.”
     He said, “These actions put hospital staff, patients, and members of the community in unnecessary, life-threatening danger. This is not the time to look to the accountants for guidance, but to the medical experts. Steward Health Care needs to step up and get in line with the Commonwealth’s other community hospitals and do the right thing – serve the community you claim to be here to serve in its time of greatest need."
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