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Steward financial crisis sparks community action at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center

Health care workers and community members will hold a rally outside of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center on Monday as closures threaten Massachusetts hospitals amidst the ongoing Steward healthcare crisis.

The rally will call elected officials and stakeholders to take steps to “protect the future of care” for the Brighton hospital as the threat of potential closure looms.

St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton. As Steward Financial Health Care’s financial struggles increase, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, which is overseen by Steward, is unable to care for its patients due to understaffing and a lack of resources. MATTHEW EADIE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

“[Efforts] starting this week [are] around rallies and forms that are engaging the community and centering the voices of patients, caregivers and the local community,” said Marlishia Aho, the regional communications manager at 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the labor union representing workers at Steward facilities.

The Our Community | Our Hospital coalition spearheading the rally movement also launched an online petition calling for new ownership at Steward. 

David Schildmeier, the director of communications for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said the coalition’s purpose is to ensure community voices are heard while stakeholders and decision-makers are grappling with the crisis.

“It’s really to give voice to those who have been shut out of the discussion [and] those who have the most to lose in this debate,” Shildmeier said. “The patients and families who rely on that St. Elizabeth’s emergency room … the maternity unit … the mental health unit.”

Steward’s ownership has been a concern at hospitals, including St. Elizabeth’s, even before it escalated earlier this year.

“In the last few years, we’ve been warning the state that we were fearful from what we were seeing,” Schildmeier said. 

Schildmeier said issues including “supplies not being paid for when nurses went to get certain supplies” and the inability to get “IV tubing or other items that were necessary for care,” were “warning signs that something was wrong” even before Steward’s financial strain became public. 

Ellen MacInnis, a registered nurse working at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, said it was clear from the early Steward Health Care’s ownership of St. Elizabeth Medical Center that the company was “breaking an agreement” with the hospital. 

“From less than a year in, they were already not keeping their word,” MacInnis said. 

She said Steward “deliberately understaffs units time and time again,” leading the Massachusetts Nurses Association to receive “hundreds upon hundreds of unsafe staffing reports where [nurses] say an unsafe situation occurred on this floor.”

“It is almost always about staffing,” MacInnis said. “The company either doesn’t hire enough people or they don’t do enough to retain.”

Understaffed units compound with a lack of resources in them, MacInnis said. She said the lack of equipment has led surgeries to get canceled at the hospital.

“In a 14-bed unit, I have three beds closed right now because we just don’t have physical beds for them,” MacInnis said, referring to mattresses. She added that there are broken beds throughout St. Elizabeth’s and Steward has not paid leases for many beds in the hospital.

Alongside the lack of necessary resources, MacInnis said the building she works in is also in need of repair.

Out of the four elevators in the building, MacInnis said that two have been broken for a year and another has been broken for six months. As a result, she has to access the elevators in the next building over, which also has a broken elevator. 

Consequences extend beyond the walls of the hospitals should the community lose any of the nine hospitals Steward Health Care owns in Massachusetts, including St. Elizabeth’s. 

“If we lose these nine hospitals, the entire healthcare system will be thrown into chaos,” Schildmeier said. “Our emergency departments at all our hospitals are overcrowded and overloaded as we speak. There is no capacity in the system to meet the current needs of patients.”

Schildmeier said Steward is a large employer and “major contributor to the economic viability of these communities.”

“The loss of the hospitals not only means endangerment of the patients, it means a major blow to the economies of these communities and the economic future of all those workers who have given years and years of service to providing care,” Schildmeier said. 

District 9 City Councilor Liz Breadon said she has been advocating as an elected representative for St. Elizabeth’s to stay open to provide quality care.

“St. Elizabeth’s is probably the largest employer in Allston-Brighton, and so if it closed it would have very severe implications for the broader community,” Breadon said.

Lenders have set an April 30 deadline for when loans and financial plans are due from Steward. 

“The timing is important,” Schildmeier said. “[We’re] hopefully energizing and mobilizing our elected officials and others who are responsible … [so] they take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that these communities … continue to receive the care they’ve received for decades from these hospitals.” 

The rallies will take place around a number of Steward-owned hospitals, including the rally at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center on Monday, April 29.

“It’s not about Steward,” Aho said. “It’s about the quality care in the communities that they serve.”

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  1. Please note what was said and emphasize that the MNA has been sounding the alarm to the State and DPH prior to Covid! We knew Steward was running us into the ground for their own profit benefit, and the State and DPH did nothing. DPH is in the building now because it is a crisis, this crisis could have been avoided. But again, big business seems to get the pass. And who suffers? The community of patients abandoned and folks like me who have worked for this institution for years(40 Years for me). And you know who wins in this? Ralph de la Torre,the criminal. He’ll be floating off in his $40 million yacht. And I’m betting he’ll open some other healthcare system for his own profit again. Because he’ll talk the money off of some little country, because he is a con artist, and he’ll rip them off too! I’d also like to say: where was the media? The MNA let the media know Steward was not all it seemed to be–wasn’t a big enough story until there’s a crisis. I’m pissed!

  2. I travel from Quincy to the St. Elizabeth’s Pain Management Center. So there are farther-reaching issue outside of Brighton-Alston. I stand by the nurses. I was an administrator there for 20 years. As soon as Steward took over, we ceased to have proper equipment, even in the OR and ICUs. Our private group would buy office supplies for the Steward-owned groups because they weren’t allowed to buy anything, even pens and paper. I have been in Healthcare for 50 years; St. Elizabeth’s is the best hospital I have ever worked in. Pls. Save it!