Union condemns closure of Memorial Hospital ICU

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The union that represents nurses at Memorial Hospital is condemning Care New England’s decision to close the hospital’s intensive care unit and limit which patients who can seek treatment there while its application to shutter the hospital is pending.

In a memo obtained by Eyewitness News, Memorial executives said starting Monday hospital employees should not admit patients with a long list of neurological, cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, gastrointestinal and other conditions. They cited “the diminution of clinical capability at Memorial due to the closure of the intensive care unit.”

In addition, they said doctors at Memorial will only perform elective surgeries on low-risk patients going forward.

“The ICU at Memorial has been averaging one to two patients a day and was not able to admit and care for the most critically ill patients normally cared for in an ICU due to limited availability of specialty physicians,” Care New England said in a statement. “In recent months, such critically ill patients have been appropriately diverted or transferred to other ICUs that were able to better meet their medical needs.”

“Any patients remaining in the ICU as of today have been provided with care options at other ICUs or step-down facilities including Kent Hospital, a CNE facility, or an appropriate location of the patient’s choosing,” the company said.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien’s office said emergency medical providers, including the city’s fire department, were informed of the changes on Saturday. The move comes as Care New England seeks state permission to close the hospital, which has been losing tens of millions of dollars.

Chris Callaci, general counsel of the United Nurses and Allied Health Professionals (UNAP) union, decried the company’s moves in a statement Monday. UNAP represents about 150 employees at Memorial.

“This is a blatant and irresponsible attempt by Care New England to side step the reverse certificate of need process and begin shuttering Memorial Hospital before state regulators have authorized any such measures,” Callaci said, referring to the process by which hospitals request state permission to close.

“We are continuing to review the situation and hope to work with local and state leaders to preserve critical services and jobs at Memorial Hospital for as long as possible,” he said.

Dr. James Fanale, Care New England’s incoming CEO, argued the company had no other choice.

“Memorial Hospital is losing close to $2 million each month that it continues to operate as an underutilized, full service hospital,” he said. “While the decision to close the hospital is difficult, this will help us move the community in the best direction possible.”

R.I. Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken confirmed the company submitted a closure plan for Memorial’s ICU on Friday. “We have been working with them to ensure that EMS and others are properly notified,” he said.

Separately on Monday, Grebien’s office said he, Gov. Gina Raimondo Central Falls Mayor James Diossa have sent a letter to Care New England asking the company to lay out what health services it plans to continue providing on Memorial’s campus once the hospital is closed.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook