Steward closes Nashoba Valley ICU

Steward Health Care temporary closes Intensive Care Unit at local hospital

As part of Nashoba Valley Medical Center’s emergency preparation, this tent was erected on hospital grounds Monday to be able to properly respond to the ever-changing demands of COVID 19. The hospital stresses this is not a walk-in center for coronavirus testing. Patients should contact their primary care physician office should they suspect they have been infected.

AYER – The Nashoba Valley Medical Center is experiencing staff shakeups as its owner, Steward Health Care, is trying to spread nurses around to address coronavirus cases.

The Dallas-based for-profit health care corporation confirmed that it temporarily suspended admissions of intensive care patients at the Ayer hospital last week. The decision is part of the company’s plan implemented on March 31 to redistribute nursing staff to other hospitals dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

However, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association, this is leaving patients at the Ayer hospital without nurses for proper patient treatment and impacting pay. The MNA said in a press release on April 2 that when Steward ordered the closing of the ICU at NVMC, it also sent the registered nurses of that unit home without pay.

Audra Sprague, a registered nurse and co-chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit with the MNA, said that the ICU is still closed as of Wednesday and the three patients that were in the six-bed unit were transferred out to other hospitals.

She added that the ICU nurses were moved to the Methuen campus of Holy Family Hospital to help COVID-19 patients.

“Because they have shortchanged all our facilities with staffing, their plan to shuffle staff will only weaken care for everyone,” Jacqui Fitts, a nurse and co-chair of the nurses’ MNA local bargaining unit at Morton Hospital in Taunton said in a press release.

David Schildmeier, a spokesperson for the MNA, said on Tuesday that Steward ordered nurses to report to not only Morton Hospital but also Carney Hospital in Dorchester. Steward designated both hospitals to be locations for COVID-19 patients in the last week.

“While the clinical staff objected to the loss of ICU access at their hospital, particularly when a nearby cluster of COVID-19 outbreak was occurring, Steward still closed the ICU and furloughed the staff,” Schildmeier said on Tuesday. “This is absolutely unacceptable. To leave a community without access to ICU care, and to treat the staff who care for the patients the way that Steward has is reprehensible.”

As of last week, there are three patients at NVMC who’ve tested positive for coronavirus.

Steward said that over 100 nurses working in its other hospitals, including Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River and Good Samaritan Medical in Brockton, have volunteered and have been reassigned to other COVID-19 hotspots.

Even nurses from Arizona and Utah flew to Massachusetts this week to help at COVID sites. The company also announced it would be opening new ICU beds for coronavirus patients at Carney Hospital, Morton Hospital, Good Samaritan Medical and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.

“We are continually impressed with the care and dedication of our frontline providers and are committed to ensuring that have they the resources they need in battling this global pandemic,” Dr. Mark Girard, Steward’s north region president, said in a press release. “We are particularly thankful to those nurses, from this state and across the country who have already volunteered to provide direct care for those afflicted with COVID-19 in our Massachusetts hospitals.”