News

Brendan Fitzpatrick

January 17, 2024

Tenet, MetroWest Medical Center Heads Attend Public Hearing

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FRAMINGHAM - CEOs of MetroWest Medical Center and Tenet Healthcare Corp., the Texas-based company that operates the local healthcare center, attended a public hearing during the Framingham City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, January 16.

CEO of MetroWest Medical Center John Whitlock and CEO for Tenet’s Massachusetts market Carolyn Jackson were called upon to show up by the City Council in December following months of complaints issued by medical professionals and residents regarding the state of local healthcare resources. Since that movement last month by the City Council to get Tenet-associated brass into the Memorial Building, nurses at Framingham Union Hospital—a part of MetroWest Medical Center—voted in favor of joining the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA), the state’s largest union for registered nurses.

District 6 City Councilor and Chair of the City Council Phil Ottaviani described the public hearing as a way to open a consistent line of communication between the healthcare organization and members of the Framingham community.

In her opening remarks, Jackson pointed to what she characterized as challenges hindering not only care in the MetroWest region, but hospitals across Massachusetts, including economic troubles, labor shortages, and supply chain prices.

Whitlock said that MetroWest Medical Center has been in the red for 36 consecutive months, adding that Tenet has helped the organization make payroll. Whitlock continued to call the closure of some medical services—such as the therapy pools at the MetroWest Wellness Center along Route 9—as “necessary” in order to allocate resources towards “more critical, life-saving services” in addition to efforts in recruiting more doctors. In regards to the union vote, Whitlock said that MetroWest Medical Center will negotiate in good faith during collective bargaining talks.

Both Jackson and Whitlock mentioned investments made into the hospital over the past few years related to equipment and efforts to boost staffing.

“In summary, we need support from this council,” Jackson said.

“We need positive energy to recruit more caregivers, doctors, nurses, and others dedicated to healthcare. We need to stop negative stories about things which create sensationalism. We need to share these stories about things that are really benefiting patients. And we need to be realistic about the time it will take to recover, given the pandemic has ravaged community hospitals—especially here in Massachusetts. If these things happen, Tenet is committed to supporting the hospital through a very difficult period.”

City Councilors showed their appreciation for the two executives appearing. Still, they referenced a number of healthcare concerns they continue to hear from their constituents as well as their desire to find solutions that work for all parties.

“I know the negativity part and I know there’s a lot of criticism,” At-Large City Councilor Janet Leombruno told Jackson and Whitlock, “but it’s warranted because these nurses that live here: they want to stay here.”

“The concern is around a lot of different things that you mentioned: it’s around staffing, it’s around quality of care, it’s around programs that have been closed,” District 2 City Councilor Brandon Ward continued.

“I know some of those are happening because (Tenet is) a for-profit entity, but it’s difficult as a community, especially when we don’t have a voice at the table to hear some of those things.”

City Council Vice Chair Tracey Bryant of District 9 asked Jackson about the causes of staffing issues and efforts in retaining healthcare professionals. Jackson noted the difficulty in competing with Boston-area hospitals, but added that they’ve been implementing recognition programs and additional review periods to solicit staff feedback in an attempt to boost retention and improve operations. Jackson also mentioned some instances of retention and sign-on bonuses being provided.

MNA President Katie Murphy, a Framingham resident herself, spoke about the Framingham Union Hospital unionization vote. She called upon Tenet leaders to expedite contract negotiations, commit to solidifying maternity services at the hospital, and improve working conditions for nurses.

“We have more nurses in Massachusetts today than we did before the pandemic,” Murphy said.

“You know the colleges and universities we have in this state; we churn out a couple of thousand nurses every single solitary year. They are nurses in Massachusetts and they want to work, but they are not willing to work under the circumstances which exist in the hospitals today.”

Multiple local nurses attended the hearing to speak on what they’ve seen as unacceptable working conditions, including a lack of essential supplies and time dedicated to patients. They also urged Tenet leadership to offer dates to initiate bargaining, continue maternity services, reinstate bonus pay for additional shifts, and hire traveling nurses to alleviate staffing problems while a long-term solution is explored.

“We have a fantastic hospital—short-staffed, over-worked, but we are very good…We are willing to work with (Tenet) and want the hospital alive and well and shining,” Tom Chaput, a registered nurse who’s worked at MetroWest Medical Center since 1980, said.

Speaking specifically about the decision to shutter aquatic therapy operations at the MetroWest Wellness Center, Councilor Adam Steiner of District 3 wanted to know why the pools were shut down and if there were any plans to get them back up and running—as well as if the City Council could assist in those efforts. Jackson reiterated that the closure was made in order to focus on what she said were more life-saving services.

Council on Aging member C. Patrick Dunne spoke on behalf of that group to address the therapy pool matter and to ensure that those aged 55 and above in Framingham are getting proper medical attention. Dunne contended the claim from Jackson that only nine people were receiving aquatic therapy treatment when it was shut down a few months ago, adding that a core of around 50 people were paying to attend classes multiple times a month.

“There’s a certain value to community benefit and community goodwill, and (Tenet doesn’t) count that in their bottom line,” Dunne said.

Members of the council expressed optimism that these meetings with local healthcare officials could become a regular occurrence in order to get more updates.

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