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Sharon Hospital says closing maternity will allow it to improve other areas

SHARON — At a meeting of local elected officials and Sharon Hospital leadership at Sharon Town Hall on Friday, Nov. 5 (and online), state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64) pointed out that the state Office of Health Strategy (OHS) is responsible for oversight of the hospital’s operations. She asked Sharon Hospital President Mark Hirko if the hospital had applied to OHS for a modification of the hospital’s Certificate of Need to allow closing the hospital’s labor and delivery department.

Hirko said the hospital is working on it.

Horn said she was concerned that between now and the time OHS renders a decision, hospital employees, faced with uncertainty, will find work elsewhere.

“By the time you apply, conditions will be materially different.”

Chief Nursing Officer Christine McCulloch said the plan is to phase out the unit over 8-12 months, and that it will remain staffed during that time. She said staffers will be offered an incentive package to stay on, and if necessary the hospital will bring in temporary travel nurses.

Salisbury First Selectman Curtis Rand said that, for Salisbury residents, Sharon Hospital is by far the closest hospital at roughly 7 miles. Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington is next at 17 miles, Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington is 27 miles, and Northern Dutchess Hospital (a Nuvance facility, as is Sharon Hospital) is 31 miles away, in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Rand also wondered why the Rhinebeck hospital is delivering about 900 babies a year, while Sharon is only delivering about 200.

And he observed that Pine Plains is about equidistant from Rhinebeck and Sharon.

Chair of the Dutchess County Legislature Gregg Pulver (R-19) said he believes closing Sharon’s maternity unit will have a detrimental effect on the hospital overall.

Another speaker worried that the loss of the maternity unit will lead to additional closures until the hospital becomes “a first aid station.”

Throughout the meeting, Hirko maintained that Nuvance’s goal is a “viable and sustainable” hospital.

“Under the current system, it won’t be.”

He said at the moment the hospital is handling two or three births per week, yet is required to have two nurses on duty around the clock, regardless of whether there are any patients.

Horn said the towns in her district have worked to attract young families and to encourage them to stay for the long term.

She said the hospital was relying on out-of-date census data and wondered why the hospital doesn’t “wait for demographic changes to work out” in the post-pandemic period.

Hirko said, “We don’t have that time,” adding that the hospital cannot afford to continue losing money on the under-utilized maternity unit.

The meeting ran about two hours and covered a wide range of topics.

Throughout, Hirko emphasized that by closing labor and delivery, resources can be redirected for other purposes, including more efficient use of the hospital building and adding and/or improving other medical services.

Hirko also indicated his desire to work closely with the towns and elected officials.

Nuvance has scheduled two Zoom meetings. One was held on Tuesday, Nov. 9. The next will be Thursday, Nov. 18, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., at the Interlaken Inn in Lakeville.

To register, email SharonHospital@NuvanceHealth.org or call 845-554-1734 with your name and phone number.

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