Saint Vincent’s facing fines over closure of behavioral health beds in Worcester amid ongoing nurses strike

State health officials are directing St. Vincent Hospital to come up with a plan to either bring its “essential” beds for mental health patients back online or shutter them for good — threatening fines of up to $10,000 per day.

The embattled Worcester hospital “temporarily” closed 89 beds — including all 10 of its psychiatry beds — earlier this month as part of an effort to maintain “crucial” health care services amid an ongoing nurses strike.

“While the Hospital has continued to assert that it will open the behavioral health unit upon the end of the strike, or sooner if they are able to get enough staff to safely open, no progress has been made on either front and you have provided no plan to the Department,” Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke wrote in a letter to hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson.

DPH determined the closure of all inpatient behavioral health beds and inaction on reopening for more than three months, “constitutes the closure of an essential service in its entirety and triggers the requirements of the essential service hearing process.”

The strongly worded letter gives St. Vincent 10 days to “immediately” reopen the beds or submit notice to close them, which would trigger a hearing process.

“Failure to meet these requirements may result in a fine of no less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 for each day the deficiency continues to exist,” the letter states.

Hospital officials declined to comment on the DPH threats and referred a Herald reporter to earlier statements.

Local lawmakers condemned the hospital’s actions.

“The decision to close behavioral health beds and relocate services out of the region by St. Vincent’s Hospital and their for-profit parent company Tenet was not only reckless, it put the health and welfare of residents in Worcester county in danger,” Rep. David LeBoeuf, D-Worcester, said in a statement.

LeBoeuf credited DPH for holding the hospital “accountable.”

“It has been shown time and time again that the hospital will go out of its way to harm the overall health care ecosystem instead of sitting down with the nurses and settling this long overdue dispute,” LeBoeuf said.

Tenet Healthcare Corp. owns St. Vincent Hospital and has been in negotiations with nurses since they went on strike in March. The strike is now the longest of its kind in state history. The hospital invoked its “last, best, and final offer” in mid-October but nurses and administrators remain at an impasse.

Rep. Mary Keefe, D-Worcester, has also criticized the hospital’s decision, which she said has “left our partnering health care providers and regional efforts … scrambling to meet the needs that have been presented between September through November.”

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