St. Vincent’s facing fines over closure of behavioral health beds in Worcester amid ongoing nurses strike

State health officials are directing St. Vincent’s Hospital to come up with a plan to either bring “essential” beds of mental health patients back online or shut them down for fines of up to $10,000 a day.

The beleaguered Worcester Hospital ‘temporarily’ closed 89 beds – including all 10 psychiatric beds – earlier this month as part of an effort to maintain ‘critical’ healthcare services amid an ongoing nurses’ strike.

“While the hospital has continued to assert that it will open the behavioral health unit at the end of the strike, or sooner if they can get enough staff to open safely, no progress has been made on either front and no progress has been made,” wrote the Acting Commissioner of Public Health. Margaret Cook in a letter to hospital CEO Caroline Jackson.

The Department of Public Health decided to close all inpatient behavioral health beds and take no action when they reopen for more than three months, “constituting a closure of an essential service in its entirety and leading to the requirements of the essential service hearing process.”

Vincent’s stern letter gives 10 days to “immediately” reopen the household or provide notice of closure, which could lead to a hearing.

The letter states, “Failure to meet these requirements may result in a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 for each day the deficiency persists.”

Hospital officials declined to comment on the DPH’s threats and referred the Herald’s reporter to earlier statements.

Local lawmakers denounced the hospital’s actions.

“The decision to close behavioral health beds and move services out of the area by St Vincent’s Hospital and their for-profit parent company Tenet was not only reckless, but put the health and well-being of residents in Worcester County at risk,” said MP. David LeBeouf, D-Worcester, said in a statement.

Lebov credited the Department of Public Health for holding the hospital “responsible.”

“It has been shown time and again that the hospital will do everything it can to damage the healthcare ecosystem in general rather than sit down with the nurses and settle this long-overdue conflict,” LeBeouf said.

Tenet Healthcare Corp. St Vincent’s Hospital has been in negotiations with the nurses since they went on strike in March. The strike is now the longest of its kind in the country’s history. The hospital based its “last, best, last show” in mid-October, but nurses and administrators are still in trouble.

Rep. Mary Keefe, D-Worcester, also criticized the hospital’s decision, which she said “left our healthcare provider partners and regional efforts … scrambling to meet needs that were presented between September and November.”

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