Greenfield Recorder 03/07/2013, Page A01
By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff
GREENFIELD — As health services and procedures shift down to Springfield and hospital administrators pay more attention to decisions that affect the bottom line, local health needs are increasingly in jeopardy, argued residents and nurses Wednesday.
Organized by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, nearly 100 people gathered in the Greenfield High School cafeteria for a 90-minute “community forum” — an event designed to collect public opinions on the present and future state of Baystate Franklin Medical Center.
During the past few months of rallying community support for the union’s contract dispute with hospital administrators, nurses learned that some residents had growing concerns about their local hospital.
Local union co-chairs Donna Stern and Linda Judd said they organized the event to start a conversation with community members about how to improve the hospital in the coming months and years.
Services are being transferred down to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield which puts added strain on patients, residents and nurses said. According to the union, the Greenfield hospital has reduced its urology, cardiovascular, pediatric and lab services and eliminated its visiting nurse services.
And other speakers expressed fear that Baystate Health’s focus on the monetary bottom line was hurting its quality of care.
David Cohen, of Greenfield, bristled at comments made in hospital president Chuck Gijanto’s “My Turn” column in Wednesday’s Recorder. Gijanto wrote, “We have faced many financial challenges that might have put us out of business altogether if not for Baystate Health’s support.”
“This isn’t a business,” said Cohen. “This is taking care of people.”
Hospital officials were not present at Wednesday’s event, said BFMC spokeswoman Amy Swisher.
“This is a forum that was organized by the MNA,” she said. “The hospital was not included in the event. Therefore we don’t have any specific comments to make about this evening’s discussion.”
Moderated by Town Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud, area residents took their turns in front of the microphone. A panel of nurses — Judd, Stern, Suzanne Love and Diane Laferriere-Murphy — sat in front of the room, adding comments and jotting down notes.
The hospital’s reduced pediatric services puts added stresses on parents, said Janina Thayer, a Greenfield resident who works as a nurse for the Gill-Montague Regional School District. Parents must sometimes leave their job and make child care arrangements to stay with their children in Springfield.
And wait lists for children who want mental health services counseling can sometimes be as long as five months, said Thayer.
Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said hospital administrators need to improve communication with both nurses and residents.
Donelan, Register of Probate John Merrigan and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, met with local nurses to hear their thoughts on the hospital, the sheriff said. But he said he was unsuccessful in setting up a similar meeting with Baystate Health officials.
“They never returned our phone calls,” said Donelan, who urged attendees to have conversations with their elected officials. “I think it’s very disturbing that elected officials and community leaders cannot get their phone calls returned.”
“I’m not surprised Baystate never called you back,” saidShelburne resident Wayne Standley, the husband of a former hospital employee.
“I’m not surprised at all, because how an institution …. treats its employees is a reflection of what that institution thinks of you,” he said, gesturing to the people in the room, as attendees burst into applause.
Greenfield resident Sammy Rahab urged the union to organize a bigger event, and invite elected officials from the local, state and national level.
“We need to really put the pressure on Baystate,” he said. Rahab also suggested that the nurses replace their “Respect Union Nurses” contract dispute slogan with something that represents more of the local community.
Charlton Baldwin, of Northfield, said that unless planning is done soon, the health system is going to face a logistical “nightmare of epic proportions” as highway construction continues to roll out along Interstate 91.
William Doyle, a physician and member of the Greenfield Board of Health, recounted the history of how Baystate Health took over Franklin Medical Center in 1986. He said that the local hospital has benefited, and perhaps even survived, because of that move.
But still, he urged nurses to pay attention to guarantees made by Baystate at the time — which included ensuring that the local hospital would keep its obstetrics services, medical/surgical unit and emergency room. There would also be local participation on the health system’s board.
Residents expressed desire to obtain a copy of that 1986 contract, to see what the expectations were 27 years ago, and how that compares to what is occurring today.
Donelan and Merrigan sat in the front row next to Natalie Blais, who was taking notes for U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern.
Renaud told attendees that town councilors Patrick Devlin, Norman Hirschfeld and Marian Kelner were also present.