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Sharon Hospital’s dilemma

The Lakeville Journal Co. Editorial

The complexities of running rural businesses of any kind are legion. With medical facilities like hospitals the problems are only made worse by the need to provide such a wide range of services that it can become next to impossible to choose what is most needed by their patients.

Depending on the time of life, needs change dramatically. Does that seem too simplistic? Or obvious? Until you live it, it’s hard to explain why those services are key at any given moment. Your child broke their wrist playing baseball? The Emergency Department becomes crucial and irreplaceable. Your mother needs a knee replacement, and she really wants to do it close to home if she’s going to do it at all? The orthopedic physicians are the most important to your family at that moment.

The problem with trying to meet all needs is that it becomes very expensive. And that is the argument Nuvance and Sharon Hospital use in defending their plans to close Labor and Delivery and change the makeup and name of the Intensive Care Unit. Yet when those departments are needed, those who use them cannot find another approach to the medical care they need very easily.

This is why the physicians at the hospital, and the group Save Sharon Hospital, are making their voices heard at past and upcoming meetings and demonstrations. Their concerns must be heard and addressed by the hospital’s administration and ownership in order for medical care to be seen as accessible in the region, for those who live both across the line in New York and in the Northwest Corner.

Because if potential clients for the hospital believe it hasn’t heard them, and won’t fulfill their needs when they become urgent, they will surely make solid plans to get their health care elsewhere. That would put the long-term viability of the hospital in question, making its eventual diminishing a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Right now, the hospital has multiple services that do meet the needs of people in the region who need medical care. (See story, front page, by Debra Aleksinas.) It will be a balancing act for the administrators at Sharon Hospital and Nuvance (as well as the state compliance agencies) to decide what the formula should be to best serve their population, and ensure the longevity of the hospital. There are no guarantees; many rural hospitals across the country have greatly reduced their services or closed altogether, after all.

But these decisions should be made considering the advice and requests of the physicians and the consumers — that is, the rest of us who aren’t medical professionals but need their care.  Without firm acknowledgment that these concerns must be taken seriously, there is the chance that the hospital won’t be able to serve its population’s needs no matter what departments it tries to keep open.

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