Marlborough Hospital executives talk priorities, concerns in town hall meeting

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By Dakota Antelman, Managing Editor

Marlborough hospital with clouds in the background
Marlborough Hospital executives met with public officials in a virtual town hall meeting on Oct. 28. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

MARLBOROUGH – Public officials discussed everything from COVID-19 vaccination mandates to a proposed Mass General Brigham ambulatory care clinic in Westborough in a virtual town hall meeting with representatives of UMass Memorial Health – Marlborough Hospital on Oct. 28. 

The call featured presentations by hospital officials before a question and answer session with a number of state legislators. A handful of Marlborough city officials logged on, among other attendees. 

Labor shortage prompts concerns

Marlborough Hospital president and CEO Steve Roach said perhaps the number one issue keeping him up at night is the ongoing national labor shortage.

Many nurses are moving into short term and/or out of state gigs, Roach said.

While Roach said the hospital is currently “doing relatively alright,” he said he was also conscious of the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which was in the process of being rolled out as of Oct. 28.

“We all have a lot of immunocompromised patients and we just can’t put them at risk,” said UMass Chief Administrative Officer Doug Brown of the reasoning for that mandate, which applies to the entire UMass Memorial Health Care system. 

“The last thing in the world that we want to do is have to terminate any of our employees,” Brown said.

Hospital faces increasing volume of patients

Outside of staffing, Roach noted an increase in the number of patients receiving treatment at Marlborough Hospital. 

“It’s great to be busy on this side,” he said. “The challenge is, we don’t have a lot of options with getting people discharged.”

The issue is particularly pronounced, he said, in cases involving behavioral health concerns. 

The number of patients experiencing such crises has spiked just as the number of available inpatient beds has remained sparse.

“We’re unable to get people out as fast as we used to in the past on the inpatient side,” Roach said.

UMass Memorial watches proposed MGB expansion

Speaking on Oct. 28, UMass Memorial officials reiterated their concern about a proposed ambulatory care clinic in Westborough. 

That clinic would expand the footprint of the Mass General Brigham (MGB) health care system in Central Massachusetts and has already garnered support among many in Westborough and beyond. 

Supporters and MGB leaders have said the facility would increase accessibility and decrease care costs. 

Opponents have argued that such a clinic would, in fact, decrease accessibility and drive up care costs by siphoning patients with high paying private insurance away from hospitals like Marlborough Hospital that rely on such patients to offset low payouts from programs like medicare and medicaid.

Last month, the Community Advocate reported that Westborough had signed its first ever payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with Mass General Brigham in connection with the project. 

As of Oct. 28, though, the proposal remained in state hands pending the results of an independent cost analysis. 

“We are a bit concerned,” UMass Memorial Health Care Vice President James Leary said, referencing questions about the scope of that cost analysis. 

“This review needs to be very broad and needs to look at all of the repercussions,” he said.

Hospital highlights positive ratings, major grant

As they discussed challenges facing the hospital, executives did highlight recent positive ratings in several key hospital ranking metrics. 

They celebrated a recent major grant from the Cummings Foundation and discussed ongoing efforts to test for and treat COVID-19 through various initiatives and partnerships.

“We are honored to receive this generous grant from Cummings Foundation and we plan to use these funds to provide resource connections and culturally sensitive educational programs for at-risk individuals and families living in the community,” Roach said in a press release following that Cummings grant. “We seek to improve the health and welfare of our community beyond our hospital walls through our Community Outreach Programs as well as our Anchor Mission of leveraging and redirecting the full economic and intellectual power of our organization and activities such as hiring and purchasing locally.” 

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