Lawrence Memorial Hospital closes emergency room, extends urgent care hours

The entrance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital is pictured on Dec. 4. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

MelroseWakefield Healthcare announced that it will be closing the emergency room at Medford’s Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) but extending the hours of the hospital’s urgent care services, according to an email sent to LMH staff by MelroseWakefield CEO Sue Sandberg. While LMH serves students treated by Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), the closure will not affect TEMS procedure, according to Zay Smolar, executive director of TEMS.

MelroseWakefield Healthcare has a clinical affiliation with Tufts Medical Center through the health care consortium Wellforce, according to MelroseWakefield Healthcare’s website.

Sandberg’s email was forwarded to the Daily by Rob Brogna, a spokesperson for MelroseWakefield HealthcareThe Medford Transcript reported that Sandberg sent the email on Nov. 7.

Sandberg said in the email that the closure was due to a recent decline in emergency room visits at LMH. It has become the least-used emergency room in the state in FY18 due to several other emergency departments in the area, according to Sandberg’s email.

“Increasingly, we’ve seen evidence that patients want healthcare closer to home and outside of a traditional hospital setting,” Sandberg wrote. “The Lawrence Memorial Hospital satellite emergency facility receives less than one patient on average an hour during the daytime, and less than one patient total, on average, between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m.”

According to Sandberg, the hospital’s urgent care facility, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and extend its current operations by 36 hours per week, will be staffed by the facility’s current emergency medicine providers.

“We will be the only urgent care provider in the area offering this level of expert, extended-hour service to the greater Medford community,” she wrote.

Sandberg also said that LMH will provide more specialized care in lieu of the emergency services, including care for people with diabetes and for issues specific to women’s health. She added that there will be a greater focus on advanced outpatient care, as well as internal and family medicine.

“These changes reflect the direction the healthcare industry is taking as patients want to remain, and be cared for, in their communities by local, expert providers,” Sandberg wrote.

The hospital’s closure will not affect TEMS procedure because TEMS does not provide transportation services, according to Zay Smolar, a senior.

“If we have patients who need to be transported, either Armstrong Ambulance or Cataldo Ambulance usually transports them to whatever’s the most appropriate hospital,” Smolar said. “The closest hospital in Medford is Lawrence Memorial, so if someone gets transported by Armstrong Ambulance in Medford, the uphill side of campus, they usually will go to [LMH] unless they need some special service.”

Tufts’ Executive Director of Health and Wellness Services Michelle Bowdler said that the closure of the emergency room at LMH would not affect Health Service procedure, noting that there are several emergency rooms in hospitals near Tufts, including ones at Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge Hospital and Winchester Hospital.

“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on [the] health and safety of our students in a way that I feel deeply worried about,” Bowdler said.

Marianne Coscia, a nurse manager at Tufts, explained that she plans to be in contact with the nurse practitioner at LMH to discuss the change in services. Coscia added that urgent care facilities can provide many of the same services as emergency rooms, including assessments of broken bones or pneumonia.

According to Bowdler, the closure will also not affect procedure in mental health emergencies because these cases are already treated at other hospitals with facilities better equipped for this problem. She added that Tufts plans to continue its relationship with LMH.

“Our relationship with LMH has always been excellent [and] collegial,” Bowdler said. “We are lucky in being near so many wonderful hospitals and having such high quality medical care that is adjacent to us.”