The closure will also deprive young patients of niche treatments only offered by Tufts doctors.
“Shame on [hospital administration] for the trauma they are inflicting on the dedicated staff who care for their children,” said Mary Havlicek Cornacchia, co-chair of the Tufts nurses’ union. “And shame on them for dismantling a beloved and historic part of town. I hope they see and hear us today and decide to change course.”
Tufts executives announced the closure plans last month, saying children who need inpatient treatment would be referred to Boston Children’s Hospital. The change, which has yet to be approved by state regulators, is expected to go into effect in July.
The decision met opposition from thousands of people and prompted an online petition that has collected more than 61,000 signatures from people who want the 128-year-old children’s hospital to stay open.
In a statement, Tufts Medical Center said it understands and respects the passion of the protesters. The medical center will continue to offer outpatient appointments with primary care and specialty care pediatricians and nurses, and will also offer day surgery for pediatric patients, the statement said. The hospital’s 40-bed neonatal intensive care unit will also remain open, according to the statement.
The collaboration with Boston Children’s will ensure “excellent care” for pediatric patients who require overnight hospitalization, the medical center said.
“Our intention is to ensure that children with their current insurance can continue to see the same doctor/care team in the same clinic,” the statement said. “We remain committed to supporting our communities and families with the same quality, compassionate care they expect and deserve.”
Tufts has been treating acutely ill children since 1894, when it provided care on a ship that sailed around Boston Harbor that became known as the Floating Hospital for Children.
Announcing the plan to close, hospital leaders said the move comes in response to several trends: Thanks to advances in outpatient medical care, fewer children need to be hospitalized, while those children who need to be admitted often require specialized services that are smaller in children’s hospitals are not available like tufts.
In addition, the number of critically ill adults with heart problems, stroke, sepsis and other conditions is increasing, and Tufts is turning away dozens of adult patients a day because it doesn’t have enough adult hospital beds, the medical center said. Meanwhile, the children’s wards are often only half full.
The change is expected to affect several hundred employees, including 140 doctors, 100 nurses and others. Some are likely to lose their jobs, but others could find new positions at Tufts or Boston Children’s, Tufts executives said.
Tufts and its affiliated hospitals and physicians treat approximately 70,000 patients annually, most of them in outpatient clinics. About 1,900 children were hospitalized and discharged from Tufts last year. In the future, these patients would be referred to Boston Children’s.
During the demonstration, Cornacchia challenged claims by Tufts that Children’s Hospital often had empty beds. As of Friday, she said, all but two of the beds were occupied.
Alice Rose, who spent 37 years as a nurse at Tufts Children’s, said she was concerned some patients might not be able to access care at Boston Children’s because the hospital won’t accept their insurance.
“When we see posts from the Boston Children’s website and look at what insurance they have, we have a lot of concern for some of our patients,” Rose said.
Tufts treats a significantly higher proportion of patients on Medicaid, the public insurance program for poor and low-income families, compared to Boston Children’s, the Globe reported. Last month, a spokesman for Boston Children said it plans to address insurance issues while it works out a more detailed agreement with Tufts for pediatric patients.
City Council President Ed Flynn and City Councilors Ruthzee Louijeune and Erin Murphy attended the rally.
“We have to keep this open,” said Flynn, whose district includes Chinatown. “We need to reassess the process and make sure we have a full view of how the decision was made. But we also need more community input on the impact this will have on immigrant families, on many Asian families, and on many families across the city.”
Among the protesters were parents of children being treated in Tufts for a rare autoimmune condition known as Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, or PANS, which causes the sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and extreme anxiety.
Boston Children’s does not recognize or treat the syndrome, the parents said.
Michael McHugh said his 7-year-old daughter Paloma is being treated for the syndrome at Tufts.
“While some Tufts Children patients and their doctors may be able to cross over to Boston Children’s for treatment, this is absolutely no start for … children [with PANS]’ McHugh said. “To think that the compassionate, personal care that…the incredible staff at Tufts is providing will no longer be available to Paloma and other children is something I just can’t think of.”
Another parent, Amanda Crowley, said their three children have been diagnosed with a related condition known as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS. “No other hospital in Boston allows children with PANS or PANDAS to receive this important immunotherapy in their facility,” she said. “When Tufts closes its beds to children, hundreds of families will be left without access to lifesaving care in the midst of a pandemic that has caused its own tremendous health toll.”
Nita Rajani, a Fall River protester, said she was treated in Tufts when she was 6 for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and 10 years later for thyroid cancer.
She criticized plans to close the hospital.
“I do not know how [Tufts] could do that to the kids and their families and all of these employees,” she said. “I see it as undermining children’s health. As they say, the adults are more important.”
Material from previous Globe articles has been used in this report.