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Talks resume on fate of Sharon Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit

SHARON — Rumors of closure or relocation of Sharon Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), which surfaced within the community last week, caught Dr. Mark Hirko a bit off guard. 

Hirko, who is the head of Sharon Hospital, said discussions about revamping the aging ICU have been ongoing for years and should come as no surprise to the public. 

“For five years or more people have been talking about something needing to be done with the ICU, which is very old and dated, and needs to be refurbished,” Hirko said in a phone interview on Thursday, March 25. “Since I came on board,” said the hospital president, the administration has grappled with the question, ‘What is Sharon Hospital going to do with this ICU?’”

Although the 78-bed facility’s ICU, which last underwent major renovations in the mid-1970s, is functional and compliant, it is seriously dated, said Hirko, and needs to be addressed as part of Nuvance Health’s  5-year strategic plan.

About five weeks ago, he said, administrators reignited the conversation, which he said was “accelerated” by response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We discussed a number of contingencies, which range anywhere from keeping it as is, all the way to saying ‘Do we really need an ICU?’”

One of the options under consideration, said Hirko, is to combine the ICU and the Medical-Surgical Unit as a Telemetry Unit. The telemetry area, explained Hirko, “is 90 to 95 percent of what the ICU does,” including treatment of patients hooked up to ventilators and heart monitors. “We have been doing a great job in understanding how to triage that type of patient without the overhead costs of a very expensive ICU.”

The merger of the units would better utilize the nursing staff and “keep everyone in the same location, therefore joining the synergy,” while eliminating the need to staff two separate units, said Hirko. It would also consolidate medical supplies.

Talks will be ongoing, he said. “We haven’t fully committed to that,” stressed Hirko, who noted that the hospital will be assisted by a needs assessment that has been completed in the past by the Foundation for Community Health. “We work with the state and our communities to maintain quality care.”

“COVID has accelerated a lot of things that would have taken us four or five years to settle on,” said the hospital president. “What we’ve found so far is that our hospital is very, very good at identifying who we can care for and who should be transferred to another part of the health system.” The pandemic, he said, helped administrators better understand “what our niche is.”

Hirko stressed the importance of identifying levels of care for patients, and in knowing when to transfer the more critically ill to other health centers when limited resources are available.

The future of health care and the changing role of hospitals, said Hirko, is evolving, with greater emphasis in the future on “keeping people out of the hospital,” through preventative health measures, tele-health and out-patient services including radiology, lab work, cardiology, rehabilitation, women’s health and wound care. 

One thing is for sure, said Hirko. “This won’t be the same Sharon Hospital of the 1980s. We’re doing our best to maintain our facility and at the same time still be fiscally responsible and financially feasible.”

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