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Sharon Hospital: Area officials speak out against obstetrics plan

GOSHEN — Elected officials and citizens spoke out against the closing of labor and delivery services at Sharon Hospital during the Thursday, Oct. 14, meeting of the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG).

NHCOG is an organization of the first selectmen of 21 area towns. The group meets monthly in Goshen.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand said the closing of the birthing unit will have an adverse effect on the town’s volunteer ambulance service and wondered why Sharon Hospital would send patients to other hospitals.

He said the town is generally supportive of the hospital’s plans but the labor and delivery phase-out “is a bit of a deal-breaker.”

Jean Speck (first selectman of Kent) and state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) both emphasized the pandemic-inspired demographic shifts in Northwest Corner towns, bringing more young families into the area.

Horn noted that the report by independent consultant Stroudwater Associates, which was used by the hospital in forming its plans, specifically does not address demographic shifts.

Henry Todd (first selectman of Falls Village) said he understood that a hospital must make money to survive.

But he said he would like to see more information on the hospital’s finances.

“I have more questions than answers, and I find that disconcerting.”

Save Sharon Hospital

During the lengthy public comment period that started the meeting, Lydia Moore of Save Sharon Hospital said it seemed to her that Nuvance, the nonprofit health-care company that operates Sharon Hospital, is deliberately implementing policies that reduce the need for labor and delivery services.

Dr. Howard Mortman, an obstetrician in Sharon, noted that the medical staff at the hospital voted 25-1 against the plan when it was presented. (His Zoom feed cut out before he could finish his comments.)

Joshua Hahn of The Hotchkiss School said closing the labor and delivery unit would have a negative effect on the school’s ability to recruit and retain faculty and staff.

Nick Moore of Sharon said the hospital “is not a bank branch, and we don’t have other options.”

Victor Germack of Salisbury questioned the assertion by Nuvance and Sharon Hospital president Dr. Mark Hirko that the hospital has lost around $40 million in the last three years.

There were far more people who wished to speak than could be accommodated in the time allotted. Their comments were entered in the Zoom chat box and will be included in the meeting minutes.

Hospital response,
on Zoom

Hirko presented a slide show detailing the hospital’s decision-making process. He said the hospital has lost $39.8 million in the last three years and this year’s loss is projected to be $21 million. The labor and delivery unit, he continued, loses $5.1 million per year, largely because of the cost of maintaining a 24-hour-a-day staff for “less than three babies per week.”

Hirko stressed larger shifts in health-care practices, in particular outpatient and ambulatory care and telemedicine. He said the hospital plans on adding services in the areas of primary and ambulatory care, cancer, heart and vascular and neuroscience, geriatric behavorial care, and autism.

(The presentation is available online at www.nuvancehealth.org/locations/sharon-hospital/sharon-hospital-transfor....)

Asked by Speck, the Kent first selectman, what would happen if a woman in labor showed up at the hospital, Hirko said the emergency room staff are trained to deliver babies.

Horn noted that there is a meeting set up for Nov. 5 in Sharon between elected officials and Nuvance, and another, similar meeting planned for Nov. 9.

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