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Sharon Hospital maternity services must stay open, state rules

Preparation for an October rally in favor of access to safe birthing in rural Connecticut communities.
Preparation for an October rally in favor of access to safe birthing in rural Connecticut communities.

The Connecticut Office of Health Strategy has denied Nuvance Health’s application to terminate labor and delivery services at Sharon Hospital, according to a final decision published Monday.

“It is definitely a day to be celebrated for this community and for our patients and for safety and quality of life,” said Howard Mortman, an OB-GYN who has been delivering babies at Sharon Hospital for over 30 years. “This place would have become a very dangerous area for pregnant women, and it would have been really hard for young families to even think about living in this area.”

The final decision stated that, among other points, Nuvance failed to prove that the proposal would improve quality, accessibility and cost effectiveness of health care delivery in the region.

Nuvance Health spokesperson Andrea Rynn said the health system is “reassessing” its path forward in light of the state’s decision.

“As a small community hospital within a non-profit health system, Sharon Hospital faces substantial financial and operational challenges to its continued operation of a Labor & Delivery unit. Years of low volume, coupled with increasing difficulty finding physicians and nurses to staff the unit, has made the situation tenuous,” Rynn wrote in emailed comments.

Nuvance filed for permission to close the labor and delivery unit in January 2022, citing low birth volume, the area’s aging population and staffing challenges. The hospital said that keeping the unit open had a negative financial impact and prevented the expansion of services that the community needed most.

According to OHS spokesperson Tina Kumar Hyde, Sharon Hospital can file a petition for reconsideration with the agency within 15 days or appeal directly to the Superior Court of Connecticut within 45 days.

Rural labor and delivery

The decision involves the second of three applications OHS received since 2020 to close labor and delivery units in rural areas of the state. In addition to Sharon Hospital, Windham Hospital and Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford also applied to shutter birthing services.

While the state denied the closure of labor and delivery at Sharon Hospital, it made the opposite decision in the case of Windham Hospital.

In December, after a three-year saga that pitted local activists against one of Connecticut’s biggest health systems, the state approved Hartford HealthCare’s proposal to close birthing services at Windham Hospital. Windham Hospital stopped performing births in June 2020 and applied for permission to close the unit three months later.

“CON applications are decided on a case-by-case basis and do not lend themselves to general applicability due to the uniqueness of the facts in each case,” said Kumar Hyde when asked what the agency is looking for. “Not all proposed terminations of labor and delivery are the same, so each proposal will be considered on its merits.”

Under the terms of the settlement with the state, Windham Hospital must hire an independent third party to assess the need for and feasibility of establishing a birthing center in the area. If the study concludes that it is necessary and possible to do so, the hospital will have to either find a provider to operate a birthing center or operate it themselves.

The hospital will also be required to provide both emergency and non-emergency transportation for the birthing parent, as well as any support people, to and from the hospital for pre-delivery exams, labor and delivery, and post-delivery visits. Windham Hospital will continue to provide prenatal and postpartum care.

Trinity Health of New England applied to close the labor and delivery unit at Johnson Memorial Hospital in September 2022. OHS issued a proposed final decision denying the closure last month.

The state process now gives Trinity Health of New England 21 days to appeal and request an oral argument. At that point, the application would appear before the executive director or deputy director of OHS, who then would have the final say to uphold, reverse or modify the decision within 90 days of oral arguments.

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