Birthing suites threatened with closure at Sharon Hospital

Sharon Hospital announced this week that it will no longer offer obstetrics in its women’s health care center. 

An initial statement estimated that the maternity unit would cease operating on July 31. In a meeting on Monday morning, July 2, Sharon Hospital President Peter Cordeau said that date was announced in error.

The hospital first must submit a certificate of need to the state Office of Health Care Access (OHCA). This new submission to OHCA follows the applications made in recent years as Sharon Hospital joined the Dutchess County Health Quest group. 

Sharon had converted to a for-profit entity in 2002, when it was purchased by Essent, a company in Tennessee (the hospital was later owned by another for-profit, RegionalCare Hospital Partners). 

Last year, in August, it converted back to not-for-profit status when it was sold to Health Quest. 

In its certificate of need, the hospital had specified that it would not “reduce or eliminate any services currently provided at the hospital for, at minimum, the first three years of operation.”

The hospital and Health Quest also vowed to “expand OB GYN” and other departments in the certificate of need.

In a meeting Monday morning, July 2, at the hospital Cordeau explained that the driver for the decision to close the maternity unit was the departure of the two OB GYN doctors that Health Quest had recruited to the area, Marcel Hinds and Mary Diana. Both came to Sharon in 2017; Diana left abruptly and Hinds has announced he will leave on July 15, leaving a gap in coverage at the hospital for maternity. 

The largest maternity practice in the area is Women’s Health CT, also known as Sharon OB GYN. The practice will remain open but as of press time the doctors had said they will be sending their patients to other area hospitals such as Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington or Hartford Hospital. 

Cordeau cited safety concerns due to the lack of coverage and also to low numbers of deliveries. There is a correlation, he said, between fewer births and greater danger because the doctors delivering babies are less experienced generally and are especially less experienced in high-risk cases.

He said he does not anticipate the state will demand the hospital keep its maternity ward, based not only on the lack of physicians but also because the numbers of births at Sharon Hospital has been declining and estimates of future population growth indicate that those numbers will continue to decrease. 

“We have already notified the Office of Health Care Access to say this is what we are planning to do,” Cordeau said. “Now we will do the certificate of need. 

“This was not our intention. It was due to circumstances we could not anticipate.”

The statistics for the Northwest Corner show that the population of over-65 residents continues to grow while the number of young families continues to decrease. Cordeau said that the hospital’s intention is to offer a wider range of services for older women (and men), rather than focusing on births.

He said that this decision does not in any way reflect Health Quest’s commitment to expanding services at Sharon Hospital and cited growth and investment in the emergency department, pain management, psychiatric  care, joint care and more. 

As for the planned increase in elder care, Cordeau said, “I believe we will be providing a much greater service to the community.”

He also said, “We can’t call this a failure or a breaking of promises. We had grand goals and we’ve executed very well on a majority of them.”

The process for the certificate of need has not yet begun and it is not known yet how long it will take. A public hearing is part of that process.

State Rep. Brian Ohler (R-64) met with Cordeau on Monday morning to express the anger and fear that he has heard from many of his constituents since the news was leaked over the weekend, ahead of a planned release date by Sharon Hospital of Tuesday, July 3.

Ohler said that he feels “there is still room to keep things status quo” and for the maternity ward to remain open. 

“The Sharon Hospital maternity ward is a local treasure and is something that should be kept going forward and not adulterated.”

If  nothing else, he said he will work hard to ensure the maternity ward at least remains open until January 2019, so that mothers who are pregnant now can deliver in Sharon.