Hartford HealthCare Takes "Community" Out of Windham Hospital
When a family thinks of their local hospital, one of the first things that come to mind is: That is where I gave birth to my three children. Or - that is where your grandfather was born.
Hospitals are a place where lives begin, lives are saved, and lives end. For over 75 years, Windham Community Memorial Hospital was at the core of the health and care for people in the rural, northeast "Quiet Corner" of Connecticut.
Multiple independent, nonprofit hospitals have been acquired by large health systems, such as Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health Systems. Our state has gone from close to 30 independent hospitals in 2000, to only 4 in 2020.
Some good things have come of these acquisitions and some bad - namely higher costs for care and loss of local services.
In Windham, Hartford HealthCare has taken over the local hospital and slowly siphoned the "community" out of the already medically under-served region of the state. In 2015, Windham's Intensive Care Unit was downgraded to a lesser service. This prompted patients to be sent to other Hartford HealthCare hospitals in Norwich, Hartford, New Britain, and beyond.
Fast forward to June 2020 when Hartford HealthCare closed the labor and delivery unit of Windham Hospital and sent pregnant mothers in labor 20 or 30 miles away to Norwich or Hartford on narrow, rural two-lane roads. Their reason: Not enough births were happening at Windham Hospital for the service to safely continue.
This step was taken, based upon a situation created by Hartford HealthCare's own decisions: diminished services (such as the closure of the ICU in 2015), the loss of a local OB-GYN practice unwilling to deliver babies at Windham, and several years of diverting deliveries to other hospitals. All the while - the Windham area has not lost a significant population of women of child-bearing age.
Hartford HealthCare did not file for permission from the state oversight agency to close Windham Hospital's labor and delivery unit until September 2020.
When the alarming news became public in 2020, a diverse coalition of community residents and advocates, Windham United to Save Our Healthcare, joined together to fight to restore labor and delivery to Windham Hospital. The group collected hundreds of petition signatures, organized public events, got two local towns to pass resolutions opposing the closure, submitted testimony and research to the state, and solicited media coverage. Universal Health Care is part of the active coalition.
The state oversight agency, Office of Health Strategy (OHS), started the review process last fall and held a Certificate of Need hearing on November 10, 2021. OHS has the authority to grant permission to permanently close Windham Hospital's labor and delivery unit or it can order Hartford HealthCare to restore services. Dozens of activists and advocates weighed in at the hearing and asked for labor and delivery to be restored in Windham. All eyes are on OHS now.