Local hospital bringing back ICU staff

Hospital owner says nurses will return to Nashoba Valley Medical Center next week

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AYER — The Nashoba Valley Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit will be fully staffed next week as its owner is bringing its ICU nurses back to work locally.

This comes over a month after Steward Health Care, the Dallas-based for-profit health care corporation that owns NVMC, suspended patient admissions to the ICU unit and sent the unit’s nurses to different hospitals. Steward said this decision was meant to redistribute the ICU nursing staff to other Massachusetts hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients. The hospital’s ICU staff were redistributed to the Methuen campus of Holy Family Hospital, Morton Hospital in Taunton and Carney Hospital in Dorchester.

Nicholas Puleo, Steward’s north region senior director of marketing and communications, confirmed on Thursday that the ICU nurses were coming back to NVMC while noting how Steward “always maintained 24/7 intensive care coverage” at the hospital. Puleo also rebutted claims made by the Massachusetts Nursing Association in April that Steward had closed down its ICU, referring to the claims as “malarkey.”

“The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services validated our capabilities to continue providing care for the Nashoba Valley community, while asking certain staff to temporarily redeploy to share their caregiving gifts in other neighbor hospitals that were being overrun with COVID patients,” Puleo added.

Dr. Mark Girard, Steward’s north region president, said in a statement that the redistribution of nurses was showing that company staff “have really come together in a remarkable way.”

“COVID-19 presented us with an unprecedented public health crisis that necessitated an unprecedented and swift response in order to save lives,” Girard added. “With statewide COVID-19 hospital admissions declining from the April 21 high of 3,965 to 3,101 today, we feel confident that our response worked and that we can begin easing some of our emergency operations measures. We formulated a solid plan and acted on it quickly. But I’m happy that we are able to take some small steps toward what could be the new normal.”

Because of the announced return of nurses, the MNA postponed a car rally planned for Thursday afternoon. The original plan was to have local community members, firefighters, paramedics and nurses drive from Brighter Horizons Environmental Inc. on West Main Street through downtown Ayer before driving past NVMC.

In a press release issued Thursday morning, the MNA said its union would be “monitoring the situation closely to ensure the services are restored” and thanked its supporters for staying vigilant to the issues related to the ICU. David Schildmeier, director of public communications for the MNA, said another rally for the nurses could happen at a later date and hope that Steward make good on keeping the ICU open.

“We desperately need the ICU open,” Schildmeier said on Thursday. “What has happened lately has been a tragedy. We would never expect a firefighter to go into a burning building with a garden hose, but that’s what we’re asking nurses to do everyday at hospitals and nursing homes. We’re afraid of how hospitals are going to handle this.”