Residents don’t buy Martha Eliot change

April 12, 2013
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Most attendees at a March 27 community meeting criticized Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) decision to end adult services at the Martha Eliot Health Center (MEHC), saying that the community was never consulted, that information has been sparse and that the decision appears financial.

“You have negated the whole concept of community health care,” said Bashier Kayou, a local youth worker.

BCH reiterated many of its earlier stances, saying that the decision was not financial, but due to changes in the healthcare industry, and that it wants to focus on pediatric and adolescent care because it is a children’s hospital. BCH also revealed that the cutoff age for patients at MEHC will be 25 years of age.

“I can cold-heartedly look you in the eye and tell you it is [not a financial decision],” said Dick Argys, chief administrative officer for BCH.

He added, “The amount of savings is negligible. In fact, it is negligible.”

Dr. John Jewett, who worked at MEHC for 13 years, including three years as the director of adult medicine, remarked, “You say it is not a financial decision, but it’s hard to believe it.”

BCH announced in January that it is ending service for about 5,000 adult patients at MEHC, which is located at 75 Bickford St. in Jackson Square. Adult service is provided in partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), which was not consulted about the decision. About 20 people attended the March 27 meeting at the Webb building.

BCH is in the process of transferring the adult patients by July to other providers, including 12 health centers. One health center in the city, the Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center (RoxComp), which is about a mile away from MEHC, recently shut down.

“RoxComp was not one of the Centers MEHC has been coordinating with to accept new adult patients,” said BCH spokesperson Rob Graham. “Since the announced closure of RoxComp, MEHC has been coordinating with RoxComp to assure its pediatric and adolescent patients have access to MEHC clinicians. Some pediatric patients have already transitioned to MEHC.”

Many attendees of the meeting complained about the lack of community involvement with the decision. Mildred Hailey, who sits on the MEHC community advisory board, said she was “deeply saddened” that the decision was made without any input from the community or the board. She said there has been no explanation why the decision was made and without the community’s input.

“I had hope to hear some of those answers,” she said.

Argys said that BCH was very sensitive to the information being leaked out to patients and staff and chose to “keep it close.”

“This was a management decision,” he said. “We chose to do it this way.”

When asked by Alison Pultinas, a Mission Hill resident, about the cutoff age for MEHC, acting medical director Dr. Shari Nethersole said that it would be 25 years of age. She noted that MEHC has a lot of patients between the ages of 21 and 25.

Nethersole also talked about how attendees were upset about not having a community process about the decision, saying there will be one in terms of expanding pediatric and adolescent care at MEHC.

BCH had done a community needs assessment study in 2009, and has another planned for this year. The 2009 report noted that “community engagement is critical” when developing community programs.

BCH spokesperson Rob Graham said the hospital is “seeking additional community input into what services and programs would be most desirable” specifically for MEHC.

“As Boston Children’s undertakes its next formal needs assessment, the information will be incorporated into our future use of Martha Eliot,” said Graham.

Several attendees, including Martha Rodriguez of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC), said BCH should apologize for ending the adult service. Near the close of the meeting, Argys did just that.

“I will apologize that the community board and the community were not involved,” he said “I do apologize.”

The meeting ended with Ben Day, chair of the JPNC, asking BCH to reconsider its decision to end adult service at MEHC. BCH did not respond.