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Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

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Episode 181: October 2, 2023

George Interviews Dr. Mark Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center

Dr. Mark Kenton has seen it all during a long career in emergency medicine, from the fast pace and constant challenge of daily cases to a pandemic that sorely tested emergency departments in unprecedented ways. Through all of it, he says effective care, especially of individuals often facing the worst days of their lives, begins with listening and forging personal connections with patients and their families. On the next episode of BusinessTalk, Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center, talks with BusinessWest Editor Joe Bednar about his important work — both inside the ER and often far outside it as an outspoken advocate — for which he has been honored as one of BusinessWest‘s Healthcare Heroes for 2023. It’s must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mercy Medical Center announced the launch of TeamBirth, a new initiative to enhance the birthing experience and improve outcomes for people giving birth and their babies.

TeamBirth is a communication and teamwork process that closes gaps in communication that challenge the safety and dignity of people giving birth. It was developed by Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health-systems innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

“At Mercy Medical Center, we want every woman giving birth and the clinicians who care for them to feel empowered to participate in decisions made during labor and delivery,” said Dr. Robert Roose, chief administrative officer at Mercy Medical Center and Johnson Memorial Hospital. “TeamBirth will move us closer to that goal by fostering teamwork and communication among physicians, midwives, nurses, staff, and the woman giving birth so that our patients are heard and supported from the moment they walk into the Family Life Center.”

Research indicates that failures in communication between providers and between providers and patients account for up to 90% of preventable injuries during childbirth.

TeamBirth was developed to address these gaps in communication to ensure that people giving birth and the clinicians who are caring for them have shared input and understanding into decisions during labor and delivery.

A central component of the TeamBirth model is a shared whiteboard located in all labor and delivery rooms to outline care plans and progress for the patient and the baby that serves as an ongoing shared reference for the team. The full care team, of which the person giving birth and their support person are an integral part, meet frequently throughout labor and delivery in huddles to make sure all parties are aware of the patient’s preferences, symptoms, and experiences and to set clear expectations.

The TeamBirth model was developed and rigorously tested by Ariadne Labs as part of its Delivery Decisions Initiative, a research and social-impact program focused on transforming childbirth care around the world. In one TeamBirth trial, 90% of the clinicians said they would recommend TeamBirth, and nearly 80% of patients said their preferences made a difference in the care they received.

“All people who give birth deserve to have a safe, dignified experience; TeamBirth is an evidence-based approach to turn this vision into a reality,” said Amber Weiseth, director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs. “We are excited to collaborate with Mercy Medical Center to ensure that the patient voice is central to all decisions in labor and delivery. We hope to see this model continue to spread to ensure the best possible care experience for every patient, everywhere.”

TeamBirth now has been implemented in more than 16 health systems around the country, collectively involving more than 1,500 clinicians and more than 67,000 mothers and babies.

Health Care Special Coverage

Riding Out a ‘Tripledemic’

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Two years ago, flu took a vacation.

Dr. Mark Kenton remembers those days — but they were no vacation for emergency doctors, who had dealt with almost a year of COVID-19 and the hospitalizations and deaths that it caused, with vaccines just beginning to emerge.

But influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV? There was almost none to be found, mainly because masking and isolating had become the norm, cutting off the potential for spreading these common viruses.

“With COVID, we had people masking, home from school, and we had no flu; there was no RSV,” said Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield. “In fact, Mercy didn’t have one ICU case of flu. Then, when we started to normalize, these viruses made their way back.”

So much that the prevalence of flu and RSV this year, combined with a still-lingering COVID threat — albeit one that has been muted by vaccinations — has combined for what has been called a ‘tripledemic’ this winter.

“It seems like the RSV population this year is much larger than in the past, which complicates things,” Kenton said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot of influenza, even in patients who have been vaccinated, and we’ve actually been seeing a lot of pneumonia. There are a lot of respiratory complaints this time of year, because it spreads through schools with kids at the end of the term, and parents may not want to keep the kids home.”

Because COVID still has a presence, he explained, when somebody comes in with a respiratory complaint, they’re tested for that as well as for influenza and RSV, a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but can be more severe in certain patients.

“With COVID, we had people masking, home from school, and we had no flu; there was no RSV. Then, when we started to normalize, these viruses made their way back.”

Dr. Mark Kenton

Dr. Mark Kenton

“We were seeing a lot of RSV a few weeks ago, but it seems that may be tapering off now,” Kenton added, noting that Mercy has seen both children and adults with RSV, a condition that can be especially precarious for infants. “We worry about them getting RSV; a lot of local hospitals have been inundated with pediatric RSV.”

Indeed, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and viral pneumonia in children under age 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 58,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized each year with the infection. Most infants are infected before age 1, and virtually all children have had an RSV infection by age 2. RSV can also affect older children, teenagers and adults.

Spiros Hatiras says he’s not sure who came up with that phrase ‘tripledemic.’ He’s quite sure, though, it wasn’t someone in healthcare.

“It had to be someone in the media — they’re the ones who like to attach names to things like this,” said Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center.

But it’s as good a term as any to describe a convergence of COVID, flu, and RSV. In some parts of the country, this convergence is filling hospitals and putting additional strain on staffs already taxed by shortages of nurses and other healthcare professionals. But Hatiras told BusinessWest he hasn’t really seen much of any of the above at his hospital — from the individual ailments to the additional strain on people and resources.

Indeed, he reported very few, if any, COVID cases, noting that there isn’t anyone in his hospital solely because of COVID, though some are there for another reason and test positive for COVID. Meanwhile, he reports few cases of RSV, and flu numbers that are similar to previous years and nothing out of the ordinary.

The Emergency Department is crowded, he acknowledged, but not because of this tripledemic; rather, it’s because fewer staff members — a result of the ongoing workforce crisis, especially in healthcare — are tending to what would be considered a normal amount of patients.

“Because there were so few cases of RSV in the first two years of the pandemic, most infants and toddlers did not get the natural immunity that their body would have produced if they had natural illness. That left a larger number of children more vulnerable to getting RSV illness, which is what we are seeing now in the community.”

Dr. John O’Reilly

Dr. John O’Reilly

Kenton has observed the same phenomenon in the workforce. “So many nurses in this profession are either retired or gone on to something else,” he said. “This is everywhere, across the board. Every hospital is dealing with staffing issues. Even with [patient] volumes overall being down, when you get the tripledemic, it’s become a significant strain on resources within the hospital.”


What Is RSV?

Flu is a common term, and most people are now well-versed in COVID, but not everyone knows what RSV is, and how it deviates from other respiratory ailments.

While RSV results in mild, cold-like symptoms for most — a runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, and fever — for some, especially infants and older adults, it can lead to serious illness, though only a small percentage of young patients develop severe disease and require hospitalization, said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

“Those hospitalized often have severe breathing problems or are seriously dehydrated and need IV fluids. In most cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days, and complete recovery usually occurs in about one to two weeks,” he explained.

Those who have a higher risk for severe illness caused by RSV include premature babies, very young infants, children younger than age 2 with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease, children with weakened immune systems, and children who have neuromuscular disorders. Other at-risk groups include adults age 65 and older, 177,000 of whom are hospitalized and 14,000 of whom die from RSV each year in the U.S.; people with chronic lung disease or certain heart problems; and people with weakened immune systems, such as from HIV infection, organ transplants, or certain medical treatments, like chemotherapy.

The COVID pandemic has had a big impact on the normal pediatric respiratory illness cycles, O’Reilly noted. “Early in the pandemic, masking and social distancing helped to limit the spread of respiratory viruses such as RSV. Because there were so few cases of RSV in the first two years of the pandemic, most infants and toddlers did not get the natural immunity that their body would have produced if they had natural illness. That left a larger number of children more vulnerable to getting RSV illness, which is what we are seeing now in the community.”

There is no vaccine yet to prevent RSV infection, but there is a medication, called palivzumab, that can help protect some babies at high risk for severe RSV disease, O’Reilly noted. Healthcare providers usually administer it to premature infants and young children with certain heart and lung conditions as a series of monthly shots during RSV season.

“Don’t go out or attend gatherings if you are sick. Take COVID-19 tests if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms. Frequent hand washing can also help prevent the spread of respiratory infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and consider carrying a hand sanitizer with you at all times. Open windows for ventilation. Practice proper cough etiquette. And, because there is more sickness at this time of year, refrain from sharing utensils or drinking cups.”

The severity of symptoms can vary depending on the age of the child and whether he or she has any chronic medical problems, such as asthma or premature birth. Bacterial infections such as ear infections and pneumonia may develop in children with RSV infection.

At first, it’s all about symptom management for young children with RSV, O’Reilly said, including keeping the child hydrated and the fever under control. “If a child is having high fevers without relief for multiple days, or increased difficulty with breathing, such as wheezing, grunting, or ongoing flaring of the nostrils is observed along with a child’s runny nose and cough, then a call to your pediatrician is warranted.”

Part of the reason why RSV is a common virus in children is the fact that it can be easily transmitted. It can spread directly from person to person — when an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending virus-containing droplets into the air, where they can infect a person who inhales them, as well as by hand-to-nose, hand-to-mouth, and hand-to-eye contact. The virus can be spread indirectly when someone touches any object infected with the virus, such as toys, countertops, doorknobs, or pens, and can live on environmental surfaces for several hours.

The CDC’s advice on limiting the spread is the same as any virus-prevention measure: covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve, washing hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching one’s face, disinfecting surfaces, staying home when sick, and avoiding close contact with sick people, as well as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and utensils with others.

“The good news,” O’Reilly said, “is that most infants and children overcome RSV infections without any long-term complications, as RSV infections can often be relatively asymptomatic and even go unnoticed.”


Safety First

After almost three years of COVID, it’s easy to push those common-sense cautions aside, but that would be a mistake, said Dr. Vincent Meoli, Massachusetts regional medical director at American Family Care, which operates urgent-care clinics in Springfield and West Springfield.

“We know there is a significant amount of COVID fatigue as we enter our third year of the pandemic, but vigilance is still important, both to protect those most at risk of developing complications and to minimize the impact on our healthcare system,” he said, noting that area hospitals saw high rates of RSV admissions early in the season.

“We saw a tremendous reduction in flu cases during the height of the pandemic because people were wearing masks and isolating,” Meoli said. “Now that society has opened up again and masks are no longer required in most places, we anticipate the number of flu cases to increase.”

Kenton emphasized that, while flu and RSV might be more prevalent now, COVID hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, about 350 people in the U.S. still die every day from COVID, and about six out of every seven of those are unvaccinated.

“I always say, vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. It’s been proven that, with vaccination from COVID, you’re still able to get COVID, but you’re less likely to die,” he told BusinessWest. “Are you going to feel sick? Yes, absolutely. But you’re less likely to be hospitalized and die from it. It’s still present, unfortunately. I think it’s always going to remain present for us in combination with the flu and RSV. So definitely get the flu vaccine every year, too.”

Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health, said vaccination is a must, but it’s important to maintain other precautions as well during the tripledemic.

“Don’t go out or attend gatherings if you are sick. Take COVID-19 tests if you think you have COVID-19 symptoms,” Paez said, adding that, during the holiday season and after, people are traveling and potentially spreading viruses. “Frequent hand washing can also help prevent the spread of respiratory infections. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds and consider carrying a hand sanitizer with you at all times. Open windows for ventilation. Practice proper cough etiquette. And, because there is more sickness at this time of year, refrain from sharing utensils or drinking cups.”

Kenton said there’s nothing wrong with turning down an invitation to a gathering where people are sick — or if there’s a possibility of introducing sickness into that house. “If someone in your house is sick, don’t go to someone else’s house, especially if they have co-morbidity conditions; getting RSV on top of that can cause them to end up hospitalized or potentially die.”

He also reminds people that COVID has an asymptomatic period between infection and symptoms, so if someone in a household tests positive, not only should the infected individual isolate, but it’s a good idea for others in the house to avoid gatherings for a few days until they know they’re negative, to avoid spreading the virus to someone else.

Meoli noted that, for those who do plan to attend gatherings — especially with people at high risk for COVID, like the elderly, children, or people who are immunocompromised — testing for COVID the day before or the day of the gathering can provide some extra reassurance.

“Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any concerns about vaccines, symptoms, or testing,” he added. “COVID-19, flu, and RSV all have the potential for complications, hospitalization, or death.”

It’s certainly a triple threat, area doctors say, but taking simple precautions can help keep families safe and patients out of the hospital — or worse.

Health Care

A Tradition of Caring Lives On

Gov. Charlie Baker, Sarah Yee

Gov. Charlie Baker, Sarah Yee, center, and Mercy Medical Center President Deborah Bitsoli at last month’s announcement of plans for the Andy Yee Palliative Care Unit.

Sarah Yee recalls that, during her husband’s final stay at Mercy Medical Center before he succumbed to cancer — a week in the intensive care unit in late May 2021 — there was some subtle “bending of the rules,” as she called it.

Most of it involved visitation, and, more specifically, the number of people who could visit and the hours when people could drop in, she noted. But there was more to it, especially efforts to make his room more like home, she said, adding that steps involved everything from the music playing — Earth Wind & Fire — to the Disney movies he would watch with family members, to pictures of family and friends that were brought in and placed around the room.

Summing it all up, Yee said that it wasn’t long before she called for an ambulance to bring Andy to Mercy for that final stay, that she decided that she didn’t want him to die at home.

Andy Yee was a successful entrepreneur

Andy Yee was a successful entrepreneur known for his passion for giving back. The palliative care unit is a continuation of that legacy.

“We love our house and the memories that we made here … but I didn’t want these to be our last memories of him,” she said, adding quickly that she did want him to die in a setting that was as close to home as she and family members could make it.

And the desire to enable others to enjoy that same home-like setting has prompted members of the Yee family, working in concert with those at Mercy Medical Center, to conceptualize the Andy Yee Palliative Care Unit, which is slated to open its doors before the end of this year.

Eight rooms are planned in space on the fifth floor of the hospital that had been a med-surg unit. Plans call for those private rooms, family respite places, private meeting rooms, and an outdoor terrace.

“This will be a specialized unit with specialized care,” said Deborah Bitsoli, president of Mercy Medical Center. “The rooms will have a particular color scheme, there will be a garden for the families, there will be particular types of furniture so the patients can stay overnight, and we will also outfit the rooms so some of the hospital equipment is behind walls, so that the environment would almost be like a home setting.

“The ICU is very institutional-looking,” she went on. “These rooms will not be institutional-looking; they’re going to look like a family room; this will be a very unique model for Springfield.”

The center will take the name of a man known for his many business accomplishments — he was a serial entrepreneur known in recent years for partnering with Peter Picknelly and others to save the Student Prince restaurant and then the landmark White Hut eatery — but also for his philanthropy.

At an elaborate press conference to announce the creation of the palliative care unit, staged last month in Mercy’s courtyard, several speakers, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, both of whom became friends with Yee in recent years, talked about how the facility would not only meet a need, but speak — and in dramatic fashion — to Yee’s passion for giving back.

Indeed, before talking about the new unit, what it would offer, and what it would mean for patients and their families, Bitsoli set the tone by first turning back the clock to the early weeks of the pandemic, when Yee arranged to bring a Peter Pan bus full of food for staff at the hospital.

“There was another time when I called Andy and said, ‘I need your help,’ and he immediately said ‘what can I do?’” she recalled. “I said ‘it’s been a tough day for the staff; I need 1,000 roast-beef sandwiches. He said ‘when?’ I said ‘tomorrow.’ He said ‘I’ll get them there.’ And he did get them there.”

This desire to give back to those at the hospital and to support employees continued until that last stay in the ICU, said Bitsoli, noting that before he fell gravely ill, Andy Yee and officials at Mercy were planning a large, thank-you-to-staff celebration that would take place in that same courtyard as the press conference. That celebration never happened, but the spirit that spawned it would inspire something with more-lasting impact on the hospital and the patients it will serve.

Indeed, in the latter stages of her husband’s battle against cancer, Sarah Yee said she had many conversations with Andy’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Glynn, Bitsoli, and others about how donations in Andy’s name to Mercy Medical Center might best be used. There was talk of funding additional infusion rooms, she said, referring to facilities where infusion therapy is administered to cancer patients.

But officials at Mercy identified a greater need — one for palliative care facilities that would cater to critically ill patients who are mostly at the end of their lives.

Such facilities are not common, said Bitsoli, noting that fewer than 20% of hospitals offer palliative care.

“There are not many units like this; it really takes a combination of a vision and particular type of expertise,” she noted, adding that the unit will be overseen by Glynn and Dr. Laurie Loiacono, chief of Critical Care at Mercy. “It also takes a particular type of administration that feels committed to providing that type of experience for patients and families. It’s a particular unit that is resourced and outfitted in a very unique way, and you have to be behind that vision — and we’re all behind that vision.

“As the population ages, there is considerable focus on palliative medicine, which focuses on how someone passes in a dignified way, in a setting where they are surrounded by loved ones and in a supportive manner,” she went on. “There is a level of expertise and specialty around that, and Dr. Glynn has that type of expertise.”

Those at Mercy have been involved with the project for several months now, said Bitsoli, adding that there have been meetings with architects and room designers to finalize color schemes and other aspects of overall design. A committee has been meeting every week to get updates and keep the project on track for a fall ribbon-cutting.

Tim Stanton, vice president of Philanthropy for Trinity Health of New England, Mercy’s parent company, agreed, and noted that there is clear need for such a facility in this region.

“Sometimes, a family may feel it is desirable to have the patient come home during those last days,” said Stanton. “But oftentimes, it’s not practical or logical. So we want to create an environment here that replicates many of the comforts of home.”

Stanton said Mercy has embarked on what he expects will be a six-month campaign to raise money to help defray the cost of the new unit, which he projects will cost between $500,000 and $1 million in its initial stage.

Those wishing to donate may do so by visiting https://give.mercycares.com/andy-yee-palliative-care-unit

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mercy Medical Center has received an “A” Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade for spring 2022. This national distinction recognizes Mercy Medical Center’s achievements in protecting patients from preventable harm and error in the hospital. This latest recognition marks Mercy’s fourth consecutive “A” safety grade from Leapfrog.  

“This notable accomplishment is the result of the tremendous team effort of our colleagues at every level of the hospital,” said Deborah Bitsoli, M.B.A., C.P.A., President, Mercy Medical Center and Trinity Health Of New England Medical Group. “I am deeply grateful to all affiliated and employed primary care providers and specialists, all hospital-based providers, and all members of the support staff for their combined efforts that have allowed us to achieve this important national recognition from Leapfrog once again.”  


The Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization, assigns an “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F” grade to general hospitals across the country based on over thirty national performance measures reflecting errors, accidents, injuries, and infections, as well as systems hospitals have in place to prevent harm.  

“At Mercy Medical Center, we are committed to consistently delivering safe, high-quality care, and this achievement — Mercy’s fourth consecutive ‘A’ safety grade from Leapfrog — reflects the fulfillment of that commitment,” said Robert Roose, M.D., M.P.H., chief administrative officer and Chief Medical Officer, Mercy Medical Center. “We also welcome the opportunity for ongoing improvement in methods of care delivery to ensure our ability to continue providing a safe healing environment.”   

The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade is the only hospital ratings program based exclusively on hospital prevention of medical errors and harms to patients. The grading system is peer-reviewed, fully transparent and free to the public. Grades are updated twice annually, in the fall and spring. 


“As our health care system continues to feel the strain of the pandemic, I thank the workforce and leadership of Mercy Medical Center for sustained commitment to patient safety, day in and day out,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “An ‘A’ Safety Grade is an outstanding achievement, and one that is not possible without a 24/7 effort by the entire health care workforce to protect patients from harm. This community should be proud.” 

Healthcare Heroes

This Administrator Has Become a Calming Voice in the Midst of the Pandemic

Maggie Eboso

Maggie Eboso was in the grocery store when the first text message came in on the evening of March 26.

Soon, there were three more, and as her phone kept pinging, it became increasingly clear that her job as Infection Control coordinator at Mercy Medical Center was about to change substantially, and that she and the hospital were entering uncharted waters.

Indeed, the first suspected COVID-19 patients — two young women who had recently returned to the area from China — had arrived at Mercy, and there were questions that needed to be answered. Lots of them.

So began an ultra-intense period that has tested Eboso in all kinds of ways, but also taken her career to a new and different plane, one in which she has emerged as a Healthcare Hero.

Those frantic first days would set the tone for the weeks and months to come, during which Eboso would take on a number of responsibilities, many of them new — from coaching staff on the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to helping all those at the hospital navigate a rough sea of changing guidelines and constantly changing information; from advocating for adequate supplies of PPE and working with colleagues to be good stewards of that precious equipment to providing a much-needed sense of calm amid a crisis unlike anything Mercy had seen before.

Her work during the early stages of the pandemic took her to every corner of the hospital, and also far outside its walls. Indeed, she taught PPE donning and doffing, hand hygiene, and infection-control practices to staff at the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow.

Summing it all up, she said this has been a learning experience — one that is very much ongoing, and one that has helped her personally and professionally in innumerable ways.

“I’m a better nurse, and I’ve grown my knowledge base,” she explained. “And I now have a closer working relationship with many of the people here. Initially, I was joking that, when COVID is done, I’m going to change my cell-phone number and disable Halo [a messaging system used in healthcare] on my phone, because of all those calls I was getting. But through all those conversations and close meetings, we’ve become closer and have stronger relationships.”

Turning back the clock several years, Eboso said she took a somewhat winding route to her role as Infection Control and Prevention coordinator.

She came to this country from Kenya with the intention of studying business, but quickly segued into healthcare at Springfield Technical Community College and soon landed a summer internship at Mercy. When it was over, she was asked if she wanted to stay on as a nurse’s aide, and replied with a strong ‘absolutely.’ In many ways, she’s never left.

She went from nurse’s aide to nurse to clinical nurse supervisor to administrative nursing supervisor on weekend nights, a position that was eventually eliminated in 2015, prompting her to leave the Mercy system for close to a year.

She was offered a chance to return, and remembers the vice president of Nursing offering her her pick of positions.

Eboso chose Infection Control, something she had never done before, but intrigued her. She recalls her husband noting she was a quick study and saying, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say ‘yes’ —then learn how to do it later.” He also sent her an inspirational quote from Richard Branson to the same effect.

But no words, from her husband or Branson, could likely have prepared her for what her role became starting early this year, and especially after she started receiving those texts in the supermarket.

“The biggest thing that we saw with this whole thing was the fear. We were all thinking, ‘yes, we’ll take care of you, and we’ll treat you,’ but at the end of the day, we all had families and children that we were going home to. So while, yes, we all signed up for this, and this is what we do, people were still afraid — they wanted assurances that they could do their jobs and still go home and not bring this back to their families.”

They came from the Emergency Department director, the ED charge nurse, and the nurse tending to the patient directly. She put the shopping aside, was at the hospital in 10 minutes, and began addressing a situation that would become a microcosm of all that would come over the ensuing weeks and months.

“We had to call the Department of Public Health and get approval for testing because hospitals couldn’t do the testing themselves,” she explained. “So it was now calling the epidemiologist, waiting for a call back, talking to the physicians and nurse, looking at the patient, and waiting for DPH to call you back.”

Maggie Eboso’s work during the pandemic

Maggie Eboso’s work during the pandemic took her to every corner of Mercy Medical Center — and far beyond its walls.

“Information was changing almost every day,” she went on, while discussing what those first few weeks and months were like. “So as you’re building systems into your computer, you’re writing policies and going out in front of your staff to educate them on the new and updated information — and that was happening sometimes several times a week.”

One of her primary roles focused on educating staff on how to use PPE and become good stewards of that equipment, but also to help them separate fact from conjecture or assumption on what equipment was needed and, above all, how to keep themselves and their families safe from infection.

“The biggest thing that we saw with this whole thing was the fear,” she explained. “We were all thinking, ‘yes, we’ll take care of you, and we’ll treat you,’ but at the end of the day, we all had families and children that we were going home to. So while, yes, we all signed up for this, and this is what we do, people were still afraid — they wanted assurances that they could do their jobs and still go home and not bring this back to their families.”

And the onslaught of information coming from the media certainly didn’t help, she went on, because this information was often contradicting what she and others were telling staff members.

“When we told them, ‘all you need is a regular mask,’ they’d see people on TV wearing haz-mat suits, and they would ask, ‘why are they wearing haz-mat suits, and all you’re giving us is a mask?’ she recalled, adding that was this was just one of many “clashes and contradictions,” as she called them, that had to be dealt with.

“We had to call the Department of Public Health and get approval for testing because hospitals couldn’t do the testing themselves. So it was now calling the epidemiologist, waiting for a call back, talking to the physicians and nurse, looking at the patient, and waiting for DPH to call you back.”

While taking on this role of educator within the medical center, she also carried it out within the community as well, including several visits to the correctional facility in Ludlow, where she provided lessons in everything from how gloves provide a false sense of security — that’s why hand washing is still very important — to how to don and doff PPE.

Today, one of her concerns involves battling complacency and what she and many others are now calling “battle fatigue” — both inside the medical center and within the larger community.

She used the nurses’ lounges at Mercy as an example. “People are tired … people want to celebrate a birthday with a cake or share a pizza; they want to eat lunch with their friends,” she explained, adding that it’s part of her job to keep these employees diligent — and safe — by keeping the numbers down in those lounges and making sure there is adequate social distancing.

She joked that people are wary of even thinking about letting their guard down because, if and when they do, “Maggie will be walking in the door at just that moment.”

That mindset, real or not, is just one of many ways of explaining why she has become a Healthcare Hero during this very challenging year.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Mercy Medical Center announced the opening of the Center for Breast Health and Gynecologic Oncology. Formerly known as the Breast Care Center, the new center provides a comprehensive approach to breast and gynecologic cancer care with an enhanced focus on malignancies of the breast, cervix, endometrium/uterus, fallopian tube, ovaries, vagina, and vulva.

Services are provided by a broad-based, multi-disciplinary team of cancer specialists and complementary support staff who focus on prompt diagnosis; coordinated, state-of-the-art cancer therapies; and patient education.

“Mercy Medical Center has long been committed to providing the most comprehensive and technologically advanced services to women, whether they need a health screening or they have received a problem diagnosis,” said Dr. Robert Roose, chief medical officer at Mercy Medical Center. “The opening of the Center for Breast Health and Gynecologic Oncology is the most recent example of this commitment, because a full spectrum of exceptional care is now available in one location.”

At the Center for Breast Health and Gynecologic Oncology, breast surgical oncologists focus on the evaluation and care of women experiencing the full range of diseases of the breast, including benign conditions (such as masses, breast pain, and nipple discharge), familial breast-cancer syndromes, and breast cancers. These surgeons utilize contemporary surgical techniques such as breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) using radiation-free MagSeed localization, nipple-sparing mastectomy, reverse axillary mapping, and oncoplastic procedures.

Mercy’s breast-care program is the only one in Springfield accredited by both the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers and the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer.

Women who have been diagnosed with malignancies of the gynecologic tract and other complex benign gynecologic conditions receive expert gynecologic oncology care at the center. These patients have the benefit of the most advanced treatment options available, including minimally invasive procedures (including da Vinci robotic surgery), radical procedures for treatment of gynecologic malignancies, and risk-reducing surgery in patients with familial susceptibility for breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer.

Additionally, patients at the Center for Breast Health and Gynecologic Oncology have access to a dedicated cancer-genetics counselor who offers a comprehensive analysis of cancer risk based on genetic, familial, and lifestyle factors. Patients receive information and recommendations for a personal approach to cancer prevention, which may include recommendations for cancer genetic testing, diagnostic screenings, chemo-preventive strategies, and lifestyle modifications.

Cancer support services available at the Center for Breast Health and Gynecologic Oncology include counseling, support groups, nutritionists, a Lymphedema Clinic, a Recovery and Rehabilitation Program, certified mastectomy bra fitting, and prosthesis. Radiology services at the center feature state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging including 3D mammography (digital breast tomosynthesis), breast ultrasound and MRI, and image-guided breast biopsies. Other services include patient-care navigation, medical oncology, radiation oncology, palliative care, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and pathology services.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Trinity Health Of New England announced the opening of the Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Center for Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Care and Neuroscience Research at Mercy Medical Center. Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in the Greater Springfield area are now able to access their healthcare needs in one central location with a team of specialists dedicated to every aspect of their care.

The Mandell Center, located at 175 Carew St. in Springfield, offers a combination of cutting-edge treatments, groundbreaking research, and innovative rehabilitation programs, and provides an all-inclusive treatment plan for each patient’s individual needs. In addition to state-of-the-art equipment, the model will include a nationally recognized team of MS specialists including neurologists, neuropsychologists, urologists, physiatrists, social workers, occupational and rehabilitation therapists, speech pathologists, physician’s assistants, and nurses.

The Mandell MS Center at Mercy is partnered with the world-renowned Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell MS Centers at Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital in Hartford, Conn. and Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Conn.

“As part of Trinity Health Of New England, all three MS Centers share the same vision regarding the delivery of cutting-edge patient care and service excellence,” said Dr. Robert Krug, president of Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital. “Our dedicated team of providers is proud to welcome Mercy Medical Center’s MS patients, and we are confident they will benefit from the focused care and supportive services that we provide.”

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that causes a disruption in the myelin that insulates and protects nerve cells. MS is a long-lasting disease that can affect a person’s brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, causing problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other basic body functions. Thus, having a variety of specialists in one location is invaluable for MS patients.

“The Mandell Multiple Sclerosis Center truly complements the services we offer at Mercy Medical Center because it exemplifies our mission to provide patient-driven, compassionate care in a state-of-the-art facility,” said Deborah Bitsoli, president of Mercy Medical Center. “Always mindful of the needs of our community, Mercy remains committed to supporting our patients by providing the latest and best in healthcare.”


Into the Breach

Debbie Bitsoli

Debbie Bitsoli says her learning curve has been altered by COVID-19, but she’s made the most of the opportunity.

Debbie Bitsoli understood she was taking on a huge challenge when she accepted the role of president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates late last fall.

But she certainly wasn’t expecting anything quite like this.

Indeed, the first six months of her tenure have been dominated not only by a global pandemic that has tested hospitals, and especially smaller community hospitals, in every way imaginable, but also a painful and controversial decision to close inpatient beds at Providence Behavioral Hospital, one of Mercy’s affiliates (more on that later).

Overall, it has been a pressure-packed, greatly accelerated learning experience on innumerable levels, one that has left her knowing more about herself, and also about Mercy and its team; Trinity Health Of New England, the parent to Mercy Medical Center; and the community the hospital serves.

“This has given me the opportunity to learn more about the culture here at Mercy and its history,” she noted. “It’s allowed me to cherish that history more as I’ve understood it, and all the years the hospital has stood on these grounds. It’s been a different type of learning experience because I’ve had to do a lot of it virtually, but I’ve made the most of it.”

The pandemic arrived in this region just a few months after Bitsoli did, and, as noted, it has impacted the hospital and its staff on a number of levels — everything from combating shortages of personal protective equipment to the strain of treating those with the virus, to the financial trauma resulting from the inability to perform elective surgery and a sharp decline in emergency-room visits due to the public’s fear of contracting the virus.

“This has given me the opportunity to learn more about the culture here at Mercy and its history.”

All hospital administrators have been facing the same potent mix of challenges, but for Bitsoli, who came to Mercy from Morton Hospital in Taunton in early December, the pandemic has greatly accelerated but also profoundly changed the process of putting her stamp on the 147-year-old institution.

And it has left her calling on experience — and experiences — going all the way back to when she worked in the dietary department at a hospital, delivering meals to patients — a job her mother, an emergency room nurse, helped her land.

“My mother set an extremely high bar,” Bitsoli told BusinessWest. “And when she got me my first job, she said two things to me — first, ‘when you bring that tray in to that patient, you’re to think about the person in front of you, not yourself.’ And, second, ‘don’t embarrass me.’ I don’t think I ever have.

“The 12 years I spent on the front lines — in dietary, housekeeping, and ultimately in the intensive care unit by the bedside with the nurses — really helped to prepare for what it’s like in direct clinical care,” she went on. “It has provided me the empathy, respect, and admiration for the front-end work that all the caregivers — the nurses, the doctors, and all the medical staff and colleagues — contribute. I had that as background, which I think equips me very well for the future.”

While the first six months of her tenure have been difficult, Bitsoli said there have been some silver linings, if one chooses to call them that. She said the pandemic has enabled her to work with her team and her board on a level — and under circumstances — that could not have been anticipated when she arrived. Meanwhile, the crisis has enabled her to see first-hand — and in many different ways — the importance of Mercy within the community and the strong level of support the institution enjoys.

“The outpouring from the community, and the love, respect, and admiration that they feel for Mercy Medical Center, has been … I can’t describe in words how much it resonates for me and how much it means for the front-end staff,” she said. “All those contributions we received, and the prayers, respect, and recognition, have meant the world to people here and allowed them to move forward knowing they’re contributing significantly.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Bitsoli about her brief but already memorable tenure at Mercy, and how this stern challenge has tested her and the medical center — and will keep doing so for months, if not years, to come.

Background — Check

Bitsoli brings a deep portfolio of experience in healthcare management to her role at Mercy — and the current crisis — with all of it coming in the Bay State.

As noted earlier, she came to the Springfield campus after a four-year stint as president of the 110-bed Morton Hospital. Prior to that, she served as chief operating officer and vice president of Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, a position she took after serving for three years as COO of MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham. Previously, she served as associate COO, chief administrative officer, and chief financial officer at Cambridge Health Alliance; administrator of Internal Medicine at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates; and audit manager and project manager at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

She said she was drawn to the leadership post at Mercy by a number of factors, including the hospital’s somewhat unique mission as a Catholic hospital, its strong reputation for quality and caring, and its status as part of the larger Trinity Health Of New England system.

She took over a hospital that reported a $12.6 million loss for the 2018 fiscal year and had made a number of staff reductions and other cutbacks in the months prior to her arrival.

“The 12 years I spent on the front lines — in dietary, housekeeping, and ultimately in the intensive care unit by the bedside with the nurses — really helped to prepare for what it’s like in direct clinical care.”

But such challenges were common to most all smaller hospitals in Massachusetts and New England, and Bitsoli said this was part of the landscape when it comes to hospital administration in this era. And so was dealing with crises, she said, adding that she’s helped lead institutions through recessions, the fallout from 9/11, and even other epidemics, such as SARS.

But this pandemic? That’s another story, and it has changed that landscape quickly and profoundly. Indeed, in addition to treating those with the virus and safeguarding staff and the community from it, Mercy, like all hospitals, has been hit hard by the inability to perform elective surgeries and sharply declining revenues from declining visitation in the ER — conditions that have forced hospitals to trim staff and implement pay cuts, even to doctors.

To guide the hospital through the crisis and its many impact points, Bitsoli said she and the management team have been focused on three things — planning, preparing, and anticipating — to the extent that they are all possible with this fast-moving pandemic.

“We have twice-daily meetings with the executive team seven days a week, so we can plan and adjust accordingly based on what’s occurring,” she noted, adding that, in recent weeks, patient volumes related to COVID-19 have declined. “The key for me was planning, preparing, and anticipating as this unfolded so that we could make sure we had our structures and designs in place to keep our patients safe.”

Meanwhile, the decision to close the 74 inpatient beds — the pediatric, geriatric, and adult units — at Providence has brought its own set of challenges. Deemed necessary because of a lack of permanent psychiatrists, the planned closure of the units, with the intention of patients seeking care at other Trinity Health facilities in Connecticut, has been criticized not only for the level of inconvenience it imposes on area residents, but also for its timing.

Indeed, the pandemic has generated a sharp rise in the need for behavioral-health services as residents cope with everything from isolation-related issues to depression and other conditions related to job loss and financial pressures, promoting even greater need for beds at Providence.

But Bitsoli said that, for several reasons, and especially the lack of psychiatrists, the hospital cannot continue to operate those beds.

“It’s been a difficult but necessary decision in light of the fact that you need physicians to take care of the patients,” she explained, adding that the services are slated to be discontinued on June 30, although the state Department of Public Health has asked for a more detailed plan on how and where people can get help before it can approve the closure plan.

Vision Statement

When asked specifically about what is involved with leading a hospital through a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic and difficult transitions like that at Providence, Bitsoli paused for a moment as if to convey that there is a lot that goes into that equation.

She mentioned everything from leading by example, something she strives to do every day, to communicating effectively with constituents ranging from patients and staff to the community to state and federal lawmakers about the many forms of help hospitals will need to weather this storm.

When Bistosli, a CPA, was working toward her MBA at Babson College in Wellesley, she did a considerable amount of reading on the subject of leadership, and is putting what she learned from that time — as well as at all the other stops on her résumé — into practice now.

“I read historical books about great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and I think that’s the learning there,” she noted. “One key element of leadership for me is trust and really making sure that the people who are on the direct team know that my vision for leadership is that we’re all in a boat together and we’re all united in that boat moving downstream, with the goal of looking at our workday to provide the maximum impact to patient safety and the colleagues we work with and for.

“For me, leadership is about trust and the ability to have a relationship with people to allow them to do the best work possible,” she went on. “To learn, to adapt, and to sometimes make mistakes, which is OK, because you learn from them. At the end of the day, you mature as a business owner and as a professional, and to me, that’s what leadership is all about.”

She said another key element to providing effective leadership — during a pandemic or any other time — is to inspire team members to reach a level they may have thought was beyond their reach, and then give them the support and the tools needed to get there.

“I want people to really aspire to greatness because, through my career, I’ve seen great, great people who didn’t know that they could get there, but with a little prodding and trust and a comfort zone, they’re able to rise above what they thought they were capable of,” she told BusinessWest. “They got there through a little support, mentorship, and really nudging — and that’s a the sign of a great leader; you invest in people, you mentor people, and you prod them because you know they can get to another level of performance.”

Moving forward during this pandemic, Bitsoli said Mercy, and all hospitals, for that matter, are summoning the same two-word phrase being used by every other business sector to describe the present and the near future: ‘new normal.’

Indeed, as COVID-19 cases decline — Mercy recently closed two of its COVID units — and the state slowly begins the process of reopening the economy, hospitals are, like all other businesses, looking to get back to what was normal.

But that won’t happen for some time, she said, adding that there are several factors that will determine when and if that state can be reached, including everything from possible new surges of the virus to the public’s appetite for returning to places like emergency rooms and doctor’s offices and fully addressing their health issues.

And, again, as at other businesses, the day to-day will certainly be different in this new normal.

“For Mercy and all the other hospitals nationally, there is going to have to be more state and federal funding allotted,” she said, referring to the fiscal challenges created by the pandemic. “It’s going to take a long time for hospitals to be able to open their doors as they did six months ago or even four months; it’s going to be a while.”

Elaborating, she said that so much depends on both the state’s reopening strategy and the ability of individual hospitals to convince the public it is safe to seek care at such institutions. The plan, released on May 18, allows hospitals that can meet specific capacity criteria and public-health and safety standards to resume a limited set of in-person services. These include high-priority preventive services, including pediatric care, immunizations, and chronic-disease care for high-risk patients, and urgent procedures that cannot be delivered remotely and would lead to high risk or significant worsening of the patient’s condition if deferred.

“Hospitals have to demonstrate to the public that they have sufficient areas that are COVID-free, which Mercy does,” she noted, “and demonstrate to the public through word of mouth that people are coming back, they’re seeing the signage, they’re seeing the care, they’re seeing that we’re going to great lengths to ensure that the public is safe and we’re screening at the door, handing out masks, and taking temperatures.

“It’s going to take the public seeing that continued structure in place to demonstrate that acute-care hospitals are safe for them to come back to,” she went on, adding that it’s difficult at this time to say when that day will come.

She said she couldn’t properly quantify the economic impact at this point, noting that April’s numbers are still being analyzed. What she does know, though, is that all hospitals are in the same boat, and that Mercy is fortunate to be part of the larger Trinity system. “The hospitals that are in the smaller systems that don’t have the leverage and the scale — they’re in a different bucket than a hospital that is based with a system nationally.”

Bottom Line

When asked when things might start to get better for hospitals, Bitsoli said matters are complicated by uncertainty about when elective surgeries may begin again and how a second wave of COVID-19 cases might impact that equation.

“There are criteria being established at the state level for when people can start to do more elective surgeries, and the key driver to that is your intensive-care unit and your number of staffed beds,” she explained. “As we look at the data, we do expect that there will be a second wave, so as they’re discussing opening up the doors to hospitals for elective surgeries, they are factoring in that second wave, which they think will be in the fall.

“Once the state establishes the criteria and we can start to do more procedures based on Governor Baker’s recommendations, we’re going to have a better sense of what the future projections are going to look like,” she went on.

At this time, it’s difficult to make projections about the future because there are simply too many unknowns. For Bitsoli, the plan is to continue planning, preparing, and anticipating, and to lead by example as Mercy confronts novel challenges on an unprecedented scale.

She has several decades of experience to call on, right down to the words of advice her mother gave her about how to focus on the patient when she was bringing in that tray of food.

And, like her mother, she sets a high bar, one that will be needed during this time of challenge and the ongoing work of meeting it head on.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On April 10, representatives of local fire departments, police departments, and ambulance companies arrived at Mercy Medical Center to pay tribute to the healthcare providers who are on the front lines taking care of patients with COVID-19.

The ‘tribute train’ entered the Mercy campus on Stafford Street and stopped at the entrance to the Emergency Department. It then continued through campus, stopping again at the hospital’s main entrance at 299 Carew St. Healthcare providers were encouraged to witness the outpouring of support by going outside, looking out a window, or listening for the sounds of the first responders as they moved through campus.

Similar tribute-train events took place the same day at all Trinity Health Of New England hospitals in Connecticut.

HCN News & Notes

SPRINGFIELD — As a result of potential cases of COVID-19 in the state and surrounding states, Mercy Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital have implemented new restrictions on visitation, effective immediately. These restrictions are in place for the protection of patients and colleagues.

The visitor restrictions are in place at Mercy Medical Center, Family Life Center for Maternity, Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital, and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. The visitor restrictions are as follows and will remain in effect until further notice:

• Visitors will be limited to one at a time per patient;

• No visitors under 14 years old will be permitted; and

• Do not visit if you have any symptoms of a cold, the flu, or COVID-19.

In order to provide an environment that is as safe as possible for patients, visitors, and colleagues, all visitors are encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water frequently, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer; use a tissue to cover any coughs or sneezes; and assess their own health and, if at risk for illness or displaying any symptoms, consider staying home.

“We recognize that the care and support of your loved ones is important,” the hospital noted in a statement. “With proper authorization in place, we commit to communicating with family and friends as frequently as possible.”

HCN News & Notes

SPRINGFIELD — Mercy Medical Center’s fourth annual Caritas Gala will be held on Saturday, March 21 at MGM Springfield. The gala, with its theme of “A Magical Night in Monte Carlo,” will raise funds to benefit the greatest needs of Mercy Medical Center. These areas include the Pathway to Care initiative addressing the opioid crisis, the new Mandell Comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis Center, as well as improvements to the Emergency Department.

Honorary chairpersons for the event include Daniel and Jill Keenan and Dr. Robert and Heather Roose. The annual Caritas Awards will honor Nicholas Cocchi, Hampden County sheriff, and Anthony Gulluni, Hampden County district attorney. A posthumous Caritas Award will also be given to the family of Carolyn Meuse, who was Complex Care coordinator at Mercy Medical Center.

The Caritas Gala will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception, live entertainment, dinner, silent auction, a Hannoush Jewelry drawing, and dancing. Pre-registration is required. For more information or to purchase tickets to the gala, visit www.mercycares.com/caritasgala.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Tina D’Agostino has joined Mercy Medical Center as a major gifts officer in the Fund Development Department.
In this role, D’Agostino’s responsibilities include expanding the Major Gifts Program by cultivating donors and donor prospects, coordinating major gifts as they relate to capital fundraising campaigns, and overseeing volunteers who support the department.

D’Agostino joins Mercy Medical Center after 17 years in the arts and entertainment industry. Most recently, she served as president of the Springfield Performing Arts Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that presented shows and managed CityStage and Symphony Hall in downtown Springfield. D’Agostino also has extensive experience in development, marketing, and event planning.

A native of Springfield, D’Agostino is a graduate of Bay Path University and she holds a certificate of Arts Administration from the UMass Arts Extension. Additionally, she is an honorary member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Business Honor Society.

“Tina is a proven leader with exceptional management and communication skills and she will be an important asset to the Mercy team,” said Mark Fulco, president of Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates.