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Framingham health board steps up fight against Newton-Wellesley outpatient center

Posted by Leslie Anderson  May 21, 2009 08:51 AM

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By James O'Brien, Globe Correspondent

Framingham's Board of Health wants the town and the state to take a second look at Newton-Wellesley Hospital's outpatient surgical and screening center, planned for a site along Route 30.

The Board of Health says Newton-Wellesley's facility — approved by the town Planning Board earlier this month and so far not subject to state Department of Public Health review — would draw critical profit away from Framingham Union Hospital and Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick, harming the area's public-health system by compromising both hospitals' viability.

"I am satisfied there is no need [for this facility] shown by Newton-Wellesley Hospital and we do feel that the public health of the town is threatened by it," said Michael Hugo, Board of Health chair.

The three-member board voted unanimously Wednesday to ask the selectmen for permission to appeal the Planning Board's approval, and to do "everything in their power" to help prompt a state review of whether Newton-Wellesley's outpatient center is needed in the Framingham area.

No representatives of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, or its parent company Partners HealthCare System Inc., appeared before the Board of Health at the hearing.

Newton-Wellesley officials have stated previously, however, that the four-operating-room facility is not meant to compete with Framingham Union or Leonard Morse, and is intended only to absorb an overflow of patients from its 26-acre Newton campus on Route 16.

The Board of Selectmen have previously stated their opposition to Newton-Wellesley's plan - sending their own request for a determination-of-need review to the state on May 18.

Tom Lyons, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, said the department would fully consider the board's letter, but emphasized that the threshold for conducting such reviews started at projects costing $25 million.

Newton-Wellesley's intended renovation of the site on Route 30 is estimated to cost about $17.5 million.

Hugo said a pair of possible loopholes in state law, however, could allow Framingham to successfully win review.

In the first, Hugo said, review proponents could try to show a determination by the state "is in the good of the public health."

Also, said Hugo, the Newton-Wellesley facility should be classified as a type of outpatient ambulatory care center that would be an exception to the $25 million threshold.

Support for state review of the Newton-Wellesley plan additionally emerged in Natick, last week.

Joshua Ostroff, vice chair of the Natick Board of Selectmen, said at the Framingham Board of Health hearing that he would ask his fellow selectmen to support the request to the Department of Public Health.

Newton-Wellesley Hospital officials, however, say their expansion will help Framingham.

The hospital has committed to a five-year annual payment of $92,000 to the town, and a one-time payment of more than $120,000 in connection with the 3-acre site.

All told, Newton-Wellesley officials estimate an economic contribution to Framingham at approximately $3.3 million in jobs and other benefits.

Andrei Soran, chief executive officer of Framingham Union and Leonard Morse's parent company, MetroWest Medical Center, countered that the Newton-Wellesley's outpatient surgical facility would simply skim needed business.

The facility, said Soran, would compete against his hospitals for profitable surgeries, but forgo other high-cost services — like emergency rooms — that his full-service campuses provide.

The effect, Soran said, would be akin to falling dominos.

If surgeons opt to do procedures at the Newton-Wellesley facility, which Soran predicted would offer "preferred rates" to doctors based on the influence of its large parent company Framingham Union would then be forced to cut staff and services due to lost revenue.

"This could lead to angioplasty closures," said Soran of the hospital's key blood-vessel repair unit. "If that closes, we would have to close other units. If we close units, then there is a real question, 'Why stay open?'"

Newton-Wellesley spokesman Brian O'Dea has denied that the new facility would offer any financial incentive to doctors to use its operating rooms.

Meanwhile, for some at the hearing, the deliberation summoned memories of previous hospital closures in the region.

Jenny Reynolds, of Natick, a nurse at Leonard Morse Hospital, told the Board of Health that she saw parallels in the Newton-Wellesley expansion to her experience as an employee of now-closed Waltham Hospital, shuttered in 2003.

"I see a community hospital facing an invasion into its area of other facilities, coming in to provide like services," Reynolds said.

Others said Newton-Wellesley opponents failed to make a convincing case.

"I do think MetroWest Medical Center is vitally important to the community," said Theresa Jacobs, of Framingham, a physical therapist employed at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. "But I'm not convinced that a surgical center would lead to the demise of a hospital."

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2 comments so far...
  1. Since when is it the Board of Health's mandate to evaluate the FISCAL health of a town?

    What precisely are their credentials in finance? strategic planning?

    Isn't the Planning Board of Framingham charged with this responsibility?

    Posted by maninthemirror May 21, 09 12:51 PM
  1. Metrowest Medical Center explored the idea of a free-standing ambulatory surgical center about 5 years ago, but rejected it because of envisioned lack of viability. It was to be situated near the Rt 9/I-495 intersection in the hopes of "poaching" patients from Milford and UMass.

    The only error here is that Soran did not have the vision to plan an ambulatory surgical center on Rt 30. Perhaps if Metrowest Medical Center was less about creating "profit" for their owner and less about being a stepping stone for management to succeed in the short-term and then move on to a better job, the community would be better served. I see nothing wrong otherwise.

    Posted by theyarewhiners May 25, 09 02:14 AM