By Dan Miller, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – Angered over what one member called the state attorney general’s “betrayal of the public trust,” the Westborough Select Board intends to reinforce its support of Mass General Brigham’s plans for a new ambulatory care clinic in town.
The clinic is part of a larger expansion plan proposed by MGB now being evaluated by the state as part of a process known as “determination of need.”
Proposed expansions of health care providers such as this one are subject to this state process, which is intended to decide whether the proposal is in the public’s best interest.
The Select Board expressed support for the ambulatory care clinic in April, and it approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with MGB in September.
On Nov. 17, though, the state House of Representatives passed bills that make “sweeping changes” to the determination of need process, Select Board chair Allen Edinberg said at a meeting on Dec. 14. The bills appear to target the MGB proposal in that their changes would be retroactive, he added.
Edinberg also sharply criticized state Attorney General Maura Healey, whom Edinberg said presented a “one-sided perspective” in recent testimony regarding the determination of need. He said this was based on the position of UMass Memorial Health Care, which opposes the MGB proposal.
“She chose not to use any of the requested information from Mass General Brigham,” Edinberg said.
He called Healey’s testimony “a betrayal of the public trust” that was “personally politically motivated and somewhat inappropriate.”
Select Board chair criticizes spokesperson’s comments
Edinberg also criticized what he described as misrepresentation of facts about Westborough by a spokesman for UMass Memorial when it comes to whether the Mass General Brigham proposal is in Westborough’s best interest.
He said the spokesperson claims that the proposed facility would not be accessible by public transportation, and that there are “not enough people of color” in Westborough to warrant the new ambulatory care clinic.
Edinberg noted that 35 percent of Westborough’s population identifies as being people of color, according to 2019 census data.
“Maybe he thinks we have the wrong type of people of color?” Edinberg said. “It is extremely frustrating and disappointing that this is their PR tactic on that.”
Edinberg also contended public transportation in Westborough is faster than that available to the spokesperson to get to any UMass campus facility.
The Select Board’s four other members supported Edinberg’s suggestion that he draft a memo reinforcing the board’s support for the Mass General Brigham proposal to be considered at the Select Board’s next meeting on Dec. 21.
Members also called on the board to reach out to Westborough’s representatives in the state Senate to ask that they oppose the House bill making changes in the determination of need process when it comes before the Senate.
“This is horrible,” Select Board member Ian Johnson said of the House bill. “It allows existing hospitals to veto anyone else coming into this area. Instead of inspiring others to do better and be more cost efficient, it basically allows them to carry on and in essence have a monopoly in this region.”
Board member Shelby Marshall described herself as being “at a loss for words” in her frustration over opposition to the Mass General Brigham proposal.
“I have had personal experience with family members waiting months for an appointment with a primary care physician – individuals critically in need of care,” she said. “There is a need for primary care, speciality care to service all of our community,” she said, adding that UMass had the opportunity to create an ambulatory center in Westborough.
Member Patrick Welch urged the board to hold off writing a letter until the town is provided with more information from the state concerning the determination of need process.
However, Welch did not oppose Edinberg’s call to draft a letter to be considered by the board at its next meeting.
Summing it up, Welch said “McDonald’s can’t say Burger King can’t be on the next corner.”
Select Board discussion follows reaction to Attorney General report
MGB’s expansion plans first came up in local discussions earlier this year.
UMass executives quickly raised concerns, first approaching the Marlborough City Council in the spring to discuss potential impacts that a new MGB facility could have on area health care costs and Marlborough Hospital in particular.
Healey then submitted a report last month detailing information for the Department of Public Health and the state Health Policy Commission to consider in the ongoing determination of need process.
That report did not take a formal stance for or against MGB’s proposal. But it did prompt questions for some and criticism from MGB.
“The attorney general’s report is a devastating blow to MGB because it reveals that their true motives are not to serve existing patients, but rather to take commercial market share from local safety net institutions like Marlborough Hospital,” UMass Memorial President and CEO Steve Roach wrote in a statement to the Community Advocate.
“The attorney general’s report and its specific focus on Mass General Brigham’s proposed ambulatory sites in Woburn, Westwood and Westborough ignores the health care needs of 227,000 of our current patients who are looking for lower cost health care options, close to where they live from their chosen provider,” MGB noted in its statement. “At a time when more health care is needed, we should focus on providing the care, services and capacity Massachusetts sorely needs. It is what our patients and the public want and deserve.”