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It’s time to step up for Sharon Hospital’s future

On Thursday, June 27, at 4 p.m. in Sharon Town Hall, representatives from the State of Connecticut’s Office of Health Strategy (OHS) will be conducting a seminar for local residents regarding a document they have issued called a Certificate of Need (CON). It concerns the merger between two private health care companies, Western CT Health Network and HealthQuest, to form a new company called NuVance. OHS has approved the merger with conditions that reflect concerns expressed by local residents about the threatened closure of labor and delivery services at Sharon Hospital last summer. 

Fred Hyde, a clinical professor in Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, has been informally advising our group, Save Sharon Hospital. Dr. Hyde put this issue in perspective for us: “The nation has lost 1200 hospitals since 1983. Almost all of them began their downward spiral by giving up maternity. There were no women on many hospital boards, malpractice insurance was expensive, many patients had little or no childbirth insurance coverage — these were all reasons cited for closing maternity. But the effect was that a hospital, after giving up maternity, essentially advertised that it was not there for the next generation, was not interested in younger patients, and especially was not interested in women’s health. This effect took some time — Winsted Hospital, for example, gave up maternity in 1977, but did not close until 1996 — but it was inexorable. My consulting practice has taken me into more than three dozen distressed or closed hospitals since 2000, and each one of them had, earlier in its history, given up on maternity.”

At our rally last year on the Sharon Green, I met pregnant women whose fear and confusion about where they would get care had brought them to tears. Thankfully Sharon Hospital and the doctors continued labor and delivery services while they negotiated. Simultaneously, over 400 residents of the Sharon Hospital area have sent letters to Connecticut officials protesting the planned closure of Obstetrics. We are grateful to the State of Connecticut for acknowledging our concerns in the CON, which creates a regulatory process to monitor the performance of the hospital’s new owner, NuVance. 

Next week’s meeting is our opportunity to learn how all of this will work and what to look for in the years ahead. The CON requires NuVance to maintain labor and delivery services in place in all its Connecticut hospitals for a minimum of five years, but there is wiggle room in the language (see excerpts below). Our community will need to be extremely vigilant, or we may lose an irreplaceable institution. In other words, we must hold NuVance’s feet to the fire.

Another large question looms: Who will be our hospital’s next president? We have had corporate stewards for several years, but now we need real leadership that is interested in our community as well as our hospital. This is not to say that interim president Denise George is not a very good administrator; she is. But she is not ours — she is president of Northern Dutchess Hospital, and she is based in Rhinebeck, 35 miles away. 

Sharon Hospital is the highest rated hospital in the NuVance group. A strong leader can help us find excellent doctors and will have the wisdom to address the many issues of a small rural hospital. By doing so, Sharon Hospital can be a shining example of how to stem the tide of hospital closures happening nationwide.

If you agree that quality health care is a right and a necessity, as do I and others who have been actively involved in resisting the deterioration of our treasured local hospital, please attend this meeting and learn how we can make this work. By attending you will also demonstrate your concerns to the various hospital administrators who will hopefully be in attendance. There will be little opportunity for questions.

We have no idea what the health care industry will look like in the future, but we do know what we want our hospital to be here and that requires all of us to get involved.

Below are several important excerpts from the CON Alternatively, you can find the CON online at the OHS website by searching the Certificate of Need portal for Document Number 32238. (https://dphconwebportal.ct.gov/Report)  

To receive updates and alerts on this issue, please join our group and become a Friend of Sharon Hospital by sending an email to SaveSharonHospital@gmail.com. You may well have skills that would be helpful to the cause.

 

Deborah Moore lives in Sharon. She is a mother, grandmother, concerned citizen and a member of Save Sharon Hospital.

 

Certificate of Need Excerpts

Text from Certificate of Need, Docket Number:18-32238-CoN, “Agreed Settlement,” 4-1-2019. WHCN and Health Quest Systems, Inc.

Page 5

“There are no planned terminations or reductions in services as a direct result of the affiliation, however Sharon Hospital is evaluating its ability to maintain maternity services due to challenges in retaining qualified obstetricians for the program.  Repaginated Ex A pp21, 46

Page 18

“iv.  Affirmation that Danbury, Norwalk and Sharon Hospitals have each continued to maintain separate emergency room services, inpatient general medicine services, cardiology services, inpatient obstetric/gynecology services, inpatient behavioral health services, critical care unit services and oncology services, such services shall assure patient affordability and adhere to standards of care, quality and accessibility and reflect local community need.

 

18.NewCo shall maintain Obstetrics and Gynecology physician staffing levels at Danbury, Norwalk and Sharon Hospitals to meet the needs of the community served by each facility in a safe and proficient environment consistent with professional stands for high quality obstetrical care.  By FY 2020 NewCo shall use commercially reasonable efforts to employ, engage or otherwise include on the Sharon Hospital medical staff a minimum of two(2) full-time  equivalent Obstetric and Gynecology physicians that provide obstetrical services at Sharon Hospital, subject to the availability of appropriate physicians and community need.  Essent Health Care of CT, In, Vassar Health CT, Inc & Health Quest Systems, Inc.  16-32132-CoN.”