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Sharon Hospital: A year of non-stop public resistance

SHARON —In the fall of 2021, Nuvance Health unveiled plans to phase out Sharon Hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit and convert its Intensive Care Unit (ICU) into a progressive care unit, citing low birth rates and millions of dollars in financial losses.

In response, a fast and furious rallying cry from the public reverberated throughout 2022. The opposition was led by the grassroots group, Save Sharon Hospital (SSH), which originally formed in 2018 when the hospital, under its previous owner, HealthQuest, announced plans to shutter maternity.

At that time, the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy (OHS) required Sharon Hospital to maintain all services for the next five years as part of its Certificate of Need (CON) process.

Fast forward to 2022 and the closing of Labor and Delivery again dominated headlines.

Throughout the year, Nuvance communicated its transformative plan through numerous community in-person and online forums, with a clear and consistent message: Its goal is focused on growth and a sustainable future for Sharon Hospital.

Nuvance leadership has maintained that the cuts are financially necessary and that in order for Sharon Hospital to remain open and stable in the long term, it needs to staunch the bleeding of red ink to the tune of $41 million annually, a situation described as “unsustainable” in an independent analysis from the hospital consulting firm Stroudwater Associates.

As part of its plan, Nuvance has been boosting investment in key services tailored to the demographic it serves, which is an older population, on average, than Connecticut and national averages.

SSH has argued that Nuvance is not accounting for the population growth that took place during the COVID pandemic as evidenced by a rise in Region One school enrollment, nor is it taking into account the need for residents in the communities it serves to have safe, local access to healthcare, including pregnant women who would face up to an hour’s drive to another hospital to deliver their babies.

Those opposed to the hospital’s plans contacted state and local officials through signed letters and petitions, attended numerous rallies and public forums organized by SSH leading up to a marathon public hearing held Dec. 6 by the state on the requested closure.

During the nearly 12-hour online forum, hospital officials reiterated their position that labor and delivery is a low volume service and is economically unviable, and that its closure is critical to its overall plan to expand and add other vital services tailored to the community’s needs.

SSH, which appeared from Sharon Town Hall as intervenors on the Zoom hearing, argued that transporting pregnant women in emergency situations to other hospitals is a poor substitute, especially given the terrain of Northwest Connecticut and Dutchess County, New York, and the severe winters.

SSH further took issue with the hospital’s claims of major financial losses, and questioned the ability of Sharon Hospital’s emergency room doctors to handle difficult maternity cases.

A running tally of the public comments, many from former or current medical professionals and elected officials as well as people with emergency services experience, showed 10 supporting the hospital’s plan and 27 opposing.

Witnesses for SSH who spoke at the public hearing included State Rep. Maria Horn (D-64), Kent First Selectman Jean Speck, and Sharon First selectman Brent Colley.

A decision by OHS on Nuvance’s pending application is expected in 2023.

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