MANISTEE, MI – In an emotionally charged town hall that took place over 2 hours on Saturday, May 11 at 11am, nurses affiliated with the Michigan Nurses Association, community leaders and elected officials, joined by over 100 concerned Manistee residents, confronted executives from Munson-Manistee hospital over the healthcare system’s outrageous decision to close their Obstetrics (OB) department effective May 31st, 2019, giving the community just 30 days notice.
Munson-Manistee Chief Nursing Officer Kelly Tomaszewski, and Chief Medical Officer Brian McComb were in attendance from Munson-Manistee administration. Munson-Manistee Hospital President James Barker, CEO Ed Ness, and the full Munson-Manistee board were invited but did not attend.
Commissioner Margaret Batzer, who served as moderator, opened the forum by thanking residents for attending, noting the emotional nature of the conversation and acknowledging it’s importance before Mother’s Day.
Rural areas across the country are facing the devastating impacts of the loss of OB departments, among other services, on their communities. State Rep. Jack O’Malley focused his remarks on the potential hindrance this closure might pose to small towns like Manistee that wish to attract and retain young families.
Others noted how these cuts will have a direct negative impact on maternal and infant mortality rates.
“As a nurse in the OB department who deals with pregnant mothers every day, I know just how quickly a labor and delivery can become a complicated life and death situation,” Said Nikki Kott, RN, an OB nurse who has practiced at Munson-Manistee for 22 years. “It is imperative that we have all the experienced staff we need for when an emergency arises, and I am terrified about the health and well-being of my patients if this closure happens.”
Many in attendance noted women will bear the brunt of this business decision.
“What kind of message does the hospital closing the OB unit send to women in the community? That giving birth is not important? That the future generation is just an afterthought,” said Kristina Protasiewicz, OR nurse and president of the nurses’ union at Manistee Hospital. “This discouraging trend sends the message that OB care is not a priority.”
Several residents expressed concern over whether the ER is properly equipped to take in, stabilize, and ship women who require expert care, as required by federal and state law.
“We are the department expected to bear the brunt of deliveries with the OB’s closure and I am not yet prepared to deliver your baby,” said Kari Zocsak, RN, BSN, an ER nurse at Munson-Manistee and outgoing union President. “As a nurse in the ER – your emergency is my emergency. OB nurses require at least 6 months of training. We’ve been given 4 weeks notice and the only training I have received has been online courses.
Citing the purchase agreement between Munson Health and Manistee County she added, “According to section 6.5, any substantial change in the scope of the hospital’s clinical services and programs can only be done after consultation with the hospital board AND based on a review of the health care needs of the Manistee community. What community needs review could possibly have been that would allow for the OB’s closure?”
Members of the community were also given space to share stories about how the OB’s closure will put them at risk, and were able to ask direct questions of Munson executives at the convening.
“Why just cut off expecting mothers from the care they trust and expect? Why not allow women to complete their pregnancies? Why not let the accountant dictate the care of pregnant woman and wait till the end of the fiscal year? Because this decision was made with ZERO consideration of the patients it would affect.” said Jeri Madsen, a Manistee resident and pregnant mother who planned to give birth at Munson-Manistee. “To Mr. Barker and Munson Manistee, I am a commodity that is to be bought and sold. I am a dollar sign on their bottom line.”
Hospital administrators present for the convening were given a chance to respond to the community’s concerns. “We know this is a brutal decision,” said Kelly Tomascewski, Munson-Manistee CNO.
When asked how Munson would alleviate financial burden of the OB unit’s closure on this community of mostly low-income families, many of whom lack access to reliable transportation, Theresa Anderson, Munson-Manistee Director of Business Operations referred to a needs based financial assistance program operated by the hospital. When pressed on how those who make just above the financial cutoff would cope, Anderson expressed a desire to reach out to those in need but declined to offer a specific plan.
The town hall concluded with the delivery of over 4,000 signatures from Manistee residents and allies across the country demanding the board immediately reverse its decision and keep the OB Department open. Tracy Wilks and Casey Waltrip, Manistee community leaders, presented the petition to McComb, and Tomaszewski.
“This thick stack of paper represents the cries and concerns of over 4,000 individuals in Manistee and Beyond,” said Wilks. “Shame on you for disregarding the health of the women and families of Manistee. We are sickened by your heartless decision to put the lives of our community at risk to pad your corporate profits.”
Nurses and community residents demanded Munson Healthcare and Munson-Manistee administration seek all possible alternatives to closure of the OB unit, and immediately convene an Emergency Taskforce comprised of critical care providers, community members, and hospital administrators.