The civil action filed against Ashtabula County Medical Center cites discrimination against women, violations of the labor agreement with the nurses
ASHTABULA, Ohio – The Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) filed a federal civil complaint, including a request for an emergency injunction, against the Ashtabula County Medical Center (ACMC) to prevent the imminent closure of ACMC’s obstetrics birthing unit on August 1, 2020. The lawsuit states that closing the OB unit will have a severe negative impact on women’s health, is a violation of the ONA’s labor agreement and is a form of sex discrimination. Closing the OB unit removes the only OB unit in the county, with ACMC referring expectant mothers to the Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital over 50 miles away. Stephanie Hall, an Ashtabula resident and expectant mother, and Rebekah Spencer, a registered nurse at ACMC and expectant mother, are also listed as Plaintiffs on the action. The action was filed on July 27, 2020.
Negative Impact on Women’s Health
ACMC’s own 2013 report on maternal health in Ashtabula County noted that while the overall birth rate in the county is lower than elsewhere, expectant mothers in the county are more likely to demonstrate high-risk behaviors. ACMC plans to continue office visits for expectant mothers, but then refer these women to Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital over 50 miles away for delivery. The lawsuit states the plan would increase the risk of a pregnant woman giving birth in transit and disrupt the continuity of care. Furthermore, pregnant women in poverty or with limited transportation are relegated back to ACMC for an emergency room delivery because of the lack of an OB unit. All of the aforementioned scenarios will increase the chance for poor patient outcomes, particularly for high-risk patients, in a state already plagued with infant mortality problems.
Violation of ONA’s Labor Agreement
On July 21, 2020, the ONA filed a class action grievance alleging a breach of 31 sections of the collective bargaining agreement. The grievance states the hospital announced the permanent closure of the OB/Maternity ward without proper notice or the consent of the union. Rather than continuing to provide local OB-GYN services to local residents, ACMC has transferred the work of its registered nurses to Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital. Furthermore, the ONA is investigating the role of the Cleveland Clinic in this decision, as ACMC is a Cleveland Clinic affiliated hospital and the Cleveland Clinic has as history of closing OB units across Ohio.
The ONA’s lawsuit states the closure of the OB unit is sex discrimination in violation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as the closure would exclude expectant women from safe, nearby access to labor and delivery services. ACMC does not deny access to healthcare to men regarding male-specific conditions, regardless of the profitability of such care. The ACMC has no legitimate justification for the closure of the OB unit.
In addition to the aforementioned issues, the action states that the ACMC Board of Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that Ashtabula County’s expectant mothers continue to have access to obstetric and delivery medical care services at ACMC.
“This is unlawful sex discrimination and a violation of the registered nurses’ labor agreement. The trustees have a duty to stop this from happening and to protect pregnant women and babies in Ashtabula County, but they failed. The Ohio Nurses Association filed this lawsuit to fight back on behalf of Ashtabula’s mothers and babies and the registered nurses they depend on,” stated Bob Cousins, Deputy Executive Officer of Labor Relations with the Ohio Nurses Association. “This scheme clearly doesn’t benefit the community, so it is time we start asking who it does benefit. ACMC plans to refer deliveries to Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital. The President of the clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital, Dr. Richard Parker, is also a member of the board of trustees for ACMC. Clearly, this decision benefits Hillcrest at the expense of the women and infants in Ashtabula,” continued Cousins.
The ONA is seeking an emergency hearing this week on the injunction to stop the closing scheduled for August 1. The nurses cite, among other provisions in the action, that the unit cannot close until the grievances filed by the union pertaining to the closure of the OB unit are resolved by an arbitrator.
The Ohio Nurses Association represents approximately 15 OB nurses at ACMC.
About ONA: Formed in 1904, the Ohio Nurses Association is a powerful network of registered nurses who are committed to advancing nursing through education, political action and workplace advocacy. ONA is the leading voice of the approximately 190,000 professional registered nurses in Ohio. To become a member of the Ohio Nurses Association, visit www.ohnurses.org.