By Staff

WORCESTER (CBS) – The state is telling St. Vincent Hospital that it will face fines if it doesn’t make a decision regarding what the hospital initially called a temporary closure of inpatient behavioral health services.

Acting Commissioner for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Margret R. Cooke, said in a letter addressed to St. Vincent Hospital CEO Carolyn Jackson, “Although the Hospital has asserted that the closure of these beds is temporary due to the ongoing nursing strike, these beds have been closed for more than three months.”

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The striking nurses, who walked off the job more than 200 days ago, have demanded better staffing, saying patient safety was at risk. St. Vincent Hospital originally closed 10 of the hospital’s 20 beds in early August due to staffing issues. About two weeks later, the hospital closed the remaining 10 beds, promising to reopen the beds as soon as the strike was over.

In October, the hospital told the state that it was using behavioral health beds at Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick and boarding them in St. Vincent’s Emergency Department.

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Cooke said the hospital must request an essential services hearing within 10 days. The hearing will address the hospital’s requirement to close the hospital’s inpatient behavioral health services or immediately plan to reopen them. If the hospital doesn’t comply, it could face fines of anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 per day.

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

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In September, city officials in Worcester, including Mayor Joseph Petty, called on Tenet Healthcare to come back to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith. Staff