When news broke that Boston Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center are now in talks about a possible merger, leaders at the SEIU 1199 Massachusetts union, which represents about 2,500 nurses, technicians, and other staffers at BMC recognized it as a sign of the intense financial pressures facing the hospital.
"The reality is that low reimbursement rates in the health care marketplace as it is at the moment is putting a lot of strain on safety net hospitals like Boston Medical Center," 1199 Massachusetts’ Jeff Hall said in an interview Thursday afternoon. BMC serves far more patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and other publicly funded health insurance than any other Boston hospital, and these days that means a steadily tougher uphill fight for financial stability.
"If there's a way that this merger can help make that possible and protect the health care safety net right now, which is under a lot of stress because of low reimbursement rates, then it might be something worth moving forward with. We're going to be watching this process very closely and advocating for transparency, advocating for patients, advocating for providers," Hall said.
Mergers like this often mean significant layoffs, but Hall said 1199 leaders aren’t ruling out the possibility it actually leads to a more stable and secure employer going forward. "We’re not opposing it. We’re not supporting it yet. We're anxious to hear more details," Hall said.
Amy Whitcomb Slemmer of the healthcare access advocacy group Health Care For All in Boston said she, too, wants to be sure that any merger leads to a stronger combined hospital network and not cutbacks that affect the quality of patient care and access.
"Making sure that patients don’t lose contact or access to their care providers, we know that those relationships are incredibly important," Whitcomb Slemmer said. "We care very much about how this will impact the patients both of Tufts and BMC. Both hospitals have shown great cultural competency, have great language capabilities, so that they serve the folks in their communities, and we would want to make sure they hold onto those resources because we know how important it is."
Tufts said in a prepared statement: "Tufts Medical Center is currently engaged in discussions to explore a partnership with Boston Medical Center. Like Tufts MC, BMC is an outstanding academic medical center backed by an exceptional medical school and university. Our organizations share a commitment to high quality, lower cost health care and to serving every patient with the greatest respect and compassion. We also share a mutual commitment to our academic missions of clinical excellence, teaching and research. Bringing our strengths together could be very powerful and meaningful, and we look forward to continuing our conversations with BMC."
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BMC, for its part, said, "Tufts MC is our neighbor, we know them, we respect them, and we share a common geography and a commitment to providing high quality care to all patients. We also share a mutual commitment to our academic missions of teaching and research. Our two organizations have a rich history of developing innovative services and partnerships for patients. Like the rest of the health care community we have considered strategic partnerships, and with Tufts MC we have recognized that the combination of our individual strengths could create a partnership uniquely positioned to improve health care in Massachusetts. There is more work we need to do before making a decision, but our conversations to date suggest the combination of our organizations could strengthen our missions to provide the highest-quality care to patients for many years to come."
With videographer Daniel A. Valente Jr.