State orders Memorial Hospital to stop admitting patients, citing safety concerns

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – State officials have ordered Memorial Hospital to sharply curtail the medical services offered there out of concern for patient safety, as they continue to review whether to allow the facility to close.

The R.I. Department of Health on Thursday ordered the hospital to stop admitting patients and performing surgeries, and for emergency medical services to no longer transport patients to Memorial.

A spokesperson said the decision was made due to low staffing at the hospital and the upcoming expiration of its contract with an anesthesia group.

Memorial’s parent company, Care New England, agreed to comply with the order, which will take effect Friday and remain in place until the department makes a decision on the proposal to shut down the facility. State officials emphasized that the order “should not be read as an indication of the future of Memorial Hospital.”

“Even when someone goes into the hospital for a routine procedure, the unexpected can happen,” Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said in a statement. “As we continue to evaluate the applications submitted by Care New England, we are issuing these directions to safeguard patients against any injury or harm that could result from the hospital’s current situation.”

“In the best interest of patient safety, Memorial Hospital and Care New England intend to fully comply with all measures set forth in the order immediately,” Care New England spokesman Jim Beardsworth said. “Further, for those employees impacted by the order, along with those who remain at Memorial, we will continue to explore all possible options for placement throughout the CNE system and beyond.”

Beardsworth said there is no hard number yet for how many employees will be laid off.

Ray Sullivan, the spokesperson for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, criticized the order as “the tail wagging the dog,” blaming health officials for failing to ensure Care New England keep certain levels of staffing and services as they consider the application to close the hospital.

“To date, the administration has yet to hold Care New England leaders accountable to their highly publicized promise to maintain some level of operations on that campus,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Anesthesia Group, Inc. notified Care New England on Nov. 1 that it would cease providing services to Memorial Hospital at the end of the month, citing physicians getting new jobs.

Memorial closed its ICU earlier this month and no longer has on-site gastrointestinal physicians or orthopedists, according to the health department, but it “will maintain respiratory therapy, radiology, Computed Tomography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, laboratory, and pharmacy services.”

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, who has been working to keep health care services at Memorial, said in a statement the Department of Health is obligated to make sure there is no more “undue stress” on the community and its patients.

“Part of their responsibility is to determine if Care New England intentionally put the community and the employees in harm’s way,” Grebien said.

Care New England submitted a proposal earlier this month to end emergency services at Memorial and transfer its primary care license to Kent Hospital in Warwick. CNE said it plans to keep internal medicine and family care offices in Pawtucket after the hospital stops operating.

Joseph Oriti, Memorial’s chief administrative officer, said the situation at the hospital has become unsustainable, with few patients and millions of dollars in losses every month. Since CNE took over the facility in 2013, Memorial has lost a total of $91 million, according to Oriti.

Memorial is licensed for 290 hospital beds, but in recent months it has had just 15 to 20 inpatients a day, officials said.

A second public meeting about the proposed closure of the hospital’s emergency department is being held Monday at Lyman B. Goff Middle School in Pawtucket from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The union representing about 150 employees at Memorial has held several protests to show their opposition to the closure. At a public hearing on the matter this past Monday, many made emphatic pleas to keep the hospital open, saying the hospital being shut down will have a negative impact on Pawtucket and the surrounding area.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.