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"We're putting moms and babies at risk": Nurses offer last-minute plea to save childbirth facility in central Massachusetts

Nurses offer last-minute plea to save childbirth facility in Leominster
Nurses offer last-minute plea to save childbirth facility in Leominster 02:53

LEOMINSTER - Parents will no longer have an option to plan childbirth at UMass Memorial Health's location in Leominster. The Birthing Center at the HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital is set to close Saturday.

"We're putting moms and babies at risk," said Miko Nakagawa, a nurse who's worked at the hospital for 25 years. She and others are putting out a last-minute plea for Gov. Maura Healey to intervene.

A candlelight vigil was held outside the hospital Thursday night in a last-ditch effort to save the birthing center. 

"We just ask her to use her power to shift this, and keep our essential services here," said Irene Hernandez, an activist with a group called Community United. They have been protesting for months. Politicians have begged UMass Memorial Health to reconsider. Even the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has advised against it.

"It's a challenging situation with the state of hospital finances and what's happened in the region," said Healey. "But it's obviously something that we as a state are really working on, and paying close attention to," she said.

Candlelight vigil held by supporters fighting to keep Leominster birthing center open 02:31

"I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, being told that there was no time to transport me to Worcester," Eladia Romero said, remembering her own emergency delivery. "I had to have my son in Leominster."

Romero and others are concerned other women might have to go through experiences like that in the Leominster hospital's emergency room, instead of the birthing center. "That's the plan," said maternity nurse Fawn Gagnon, who's worked at the hospital for more than 35 years. "I mean with the unit closed, we would have the ER set up, and I'm not sure that's a safe option."

What makes matters even worse, they said, is the fact that Leominster residents are still recovering from last week's devastating floods. They said losing the birthing center is yet another blow at a difficult time.  "I am really concerned about life, the life of the children and the parents, " said Rev. Annie Belmer. 

On Friday night, the city of Leominster filed a lawsuit against UMass Memorial Health. The city wants a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would stop the birthing center from closing. 

UMass Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson wrote about the closure in a letter addressed to his staff. "We are confident that our plan effectively prioritizes the health and safety of birthing people and newborns throughout the North Central region," he wrote.  "Keeping a birthing center open without adequate obstetrical coverage is not in the best interest of our patients and is something we are not willing to do, regardless of the political pressure and demanding headlines. Sometimes the right thing to do, and I know this is the right decision for our patients, is the harder thing to do."

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