DPH staff recommends that Children’s Hospital project moves forward

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) has issued a staff recommendation that supports Boston Children’s Hospital’s (BCH) Determination of Need (DoN) for a major construction project.

That project will lead to the destruction of the Prouty Garden. The Friends of the Prouty Garden group has waged a spirited campaign to save the green space.

The Public Health Council will hold a hearing on the DoN Oct. 20. The DoN program, established by the legislature in 1971, promotes the availability and accessibility of cost effective and high quality health care services to Massachusetts citizens, according to DPH. It also assists in controlling health care costs by eliminating duplication of expensive technologies, facilities, and services, according to DPH.

The DoN program evaluates proposals and makes recommendations to the Public Health Council for approval or denial of the expenditures or new services, and the Public Health Council makes the final decision.

“Following a thorough review, it has been determined Children’s proposal meets the regulatory requirements and includes many positive aspects to improve care for the children and families the hospital serves,” said DPH spokesperson Tom Lyons in a statement. “To ensure accountability and transparency, the Department will also require on-going reporting by the hospital to verify assurances this project will not negatively impact the Commonwealth’s commitment to health care cost containment, and strong remedies in the event the project increases Massachusetts health care spending.”

Gregor McGregor, an attorney for the group fighting to save the garden, said in a statement that they were “disappointed” with the decision.

“We are disappointed that the staff at the Department of Public Health recommended approval of the $1 billion expansion of Children’s Hospital without any substantive or credible analysis of the consequences, ignoring both significant concerns raised by the state’s own Health Policy Commission, and objections raised by thousands of patients, families, community members, donors and staff who comprise the Friends of the Prouty Garden,” he said.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, an independent state agency, said in a report released earlier this week “that there is a likelihood that the expansion will lead to increased Massachusetts health care spending.”

McGregor went on in his statement to say that if the BCH project is approved, it would lead to reduced competition, drive health care prices up, and destroy the Prouty Garden, “a beautiful, unique therapeutic healing garden that has given give solace to generations of sick children and their families.”

Sandra Fenwick, president and CEO of BCH, released a comment through a spokesperson that said, “Boston Children’s Hospital is pleased to have earned the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) staff recommendation in support of our Determination of Need application. We appreciate and respect the thoroughness of DPH staff in reviewing this application and recognizing the benefit to patients and families. We agree with the conditions in principle, but are still reviewing the precise language and may require clarification as to how the conditions will be implemented. We expect to have further discussion with DPH staff these conditions primarily with respect to definitions, methodology, and scope.”

She thanked BCH’s staff, patients, and families who have been part of the effort and said that that group “appreciates the challenges of caring for families in facilities that are at capacity – and beyond.”

“From the day we submitted our application, the health needs of the children we care for have been our focus,” she said. “We will continue to advocate for improved health care facilities, updated technology, increased access and expanded green space offered as part of our proposed expansion plan at next month’s Public Health Council meeting and look forward to earning their support as well.”

BCH plans to replace the Prouty Garden and the 55 Shattuck St. building with a new clinical building at the corner of Shattuck Street and Meadow Lane on its main campus.

According to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society website, the garden was a gift from Olive Higgins Prouty, a local author, and opened in 1956. It is described as a “small pocket garden” and as a “quiet oasis” located behind BCH’s main building. The garden, designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm, is modeled after the terrace and garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The Friends of the Prouty Garden had petitioned the Boston Landmarks Commission to landmark the garden. That petition was rejected by a 7-1 vote. The group hired a law firm and asked the AGO to stop the demolition, saying it goes against the terms of Prouty’s gift and her will. AGO has the authority to make sure funds to a charity are properly used. AGO declined to intervene.

Members of the Friends of the Prouty Garden also have a lawsuit attempting to stop the project, which is pending.

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