Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mount Auburn’s campus in West Cambridge seen May 25, 2022. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Though Mount Auburn Hospital is closing two centers in 2024, none of their services are leaving the Cambridge area, according to Dr. Ed Huang, the hospital’s president. Plus, Mount Auburn is upgrading some of its facilities and investing heavily in new technology.

Over the past month, a few residents reached out to Cambridge Day about potential cuts at Mount Auburn, including that the hospital’s Quimby Center for Geriatric Care, which provides care to older residents, was closing unexpectedly in March.

Huang confirmed that Mount Auburn was closing the Quimby Center, though he clarified that the hospital was not cutting its geriatric services.

Mount Auburn has been providing geriatric care primarily in two ways, Huang said: through the Quimby Center and by sending its geriatricians to nursing facilities and nursing homes. Because many of its services were centralized at Quimby, the hospital felt it wasn’t supporting the broader area as well as it could. Now, to better reach its surrounding communities, the hospital is placing the center’s geriatricians and nurse practitioners in primary care offices within about a 5-mile radius of the hospital.

“All of the patients who were cared for at Quimby can stay with their provider. They just may be following their provider to other sites where they can be better supported holistically,” Huang said.

Huang also said that Mount Auburn will station geriatricians at multiple sites in Cambridge, including at the hospital’s 330 Mount Auburn St., West Cambridge, campus where the Quimby Center was located. As well as reaching more patients, the hospital hopes that having a geriatrician on site will give primary care providers more resources to enhance their care.

Some Cambridge residents also mentioned that Mount Auburn was closing its sleep clinic.

Mount Auburn’s sleep services also consist of two parts, Huang explained. The hospital has sleep specialists who consult with patients and does sleep studies, procedures in which patients sleep while wearing electrodes. The hospital will continue offering sleep medicine consultation – but patients will do the sleep studies at home. That will save space that the hospital might need for critically ill patients, Huang said.

“We’re just not going to do those sleep studies in the hospital anymore because there’s more options,” he said. “We’re trying to think about sustainability for what has to be done in a hospital.”

Health care economics

Since the start of the Covid pandemic, Mount Auburn has faced some significant financial challenges, Huang said.

One of the largest, he said, has been retaining nurses, especially those with specialized training. Across the health care industry, many experienced professionals retired after dealing with the pandemic. As a result, hospitals compete for a smaller pool of nurses.

“We’ve seen so much attrition in the workforce that the supply and demand has basically been turned upside down,” Huang said.

Another challenge has been the growth in travel nursing. Much of the nursing workforce has opted to work as traveling nurses, who work temporarily at hospitals and often make more money, instead of at a specific hospital. According to Huang, Mount Auburn now spends between 10 and 15 times as much on travel nursing as it did in 2019.

“That creates an unsustainable financial balance,” he said.

The nursing shortage has affected some areas of the hospital more than others. Huang said that the hospital’s emergency department, for example, has felt particularly acute effects, as its nurses are specially trained and in very high demand.

“We just have to pay what the market bears to make sure our patients are safely cared for,” Huang said.

Mount Auburn is implementing a few different strategies to strengthen its nursing corps. The hospital, Huang said, has opened its own nursing residency program, which provides training and mentoring to early-career nurses. It is also more aggressively recruiting nurses and trying to convince traveling nurses to make Mount Auburn their professional home, Huang said.

“These programs are really all about retention,” he said.

Upgrades and new technology

Despite its financial challenges, Mount Auburn continues investing in new services, Huang said, citing the recent addition of a magnetic resonance imaging machine to its 725 Concord Ave. location in the Cambridge Highlands, which houses Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care’s Belmont Medical Associates. The machine will give patients an alternative to traveling into Boston.

The hospital is also upgrading its cancer care. It’s installing a medical linear accelerator, a device used in radiation treatment, to enhance its oncology services, Huang said.

Mount Auburn is similarly bolstering its cardiac services, hiring cardiac surgeons and updating its catheterization laboratories, through which doctors can perform a variety of tests on patients’ cardiovascular systems, Huang said.

Renovating pharmacies, hiring orthopedic physicians and opening a 40,000-square-foot ambulatory center in Watertown are also on the docket. That new ambulatory center, Huang said, is a project about which the hospital is especially excited because “if you’re in Watertown Center, you might rather go five minutes to see your doctor than come 15 minutes to Mount Auburn.”