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New London Community Advocates Want Bigger Voice in Hospital Takeover

Harriet Jones

Community advocates and union leaders in New London are concerned they had no opportunity to comment on the final order which allows Yale New Haven Health to take over the city’s hospital. 

Yale’s proposed partnership with Lawrence & Memorial Healthcare had been stalled for about a year, and looked no closer to becoming a reality last Thursday, when suddenly late in the day, the Office of Health Care Access issued its blessing on the deal - surprising even the partners themselves, not to mention the many people who had reservations about the proposal.

“This happened too quick. We don’t have a voice,” said Martha Marx. She’s a city councilor in New London, and president of the visiting nurses’ union at L&M. She’s concerned Yale may now seek to make cuts at L&M.

“They’re going to want to save money. They’re going to consolidate services," she told WNPR. "Because why would they have a NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] at L&M and [one] at Yale? I take care of a lot of lower income people - and it’s really hard to get to New Haven.”

Unions are also worried that Yale may drive up prices at Lawrence & Memorial. Marx said they have been trying to find out what happened to prices at Greenwich and Bridgeport Hospitals when they were taken over by Yale.

“We’ve never seen those numbers. We asked for those numbers a year ago. And if they’re not giving us those numbers there has to be reason,” she said.

But the two hospital groups want to calm those fears. The Office of Health Care Access has stipulated that there must be an independent monitor to oversee price and access concerns for up to three years as the two work out their affiliation. L&M said it will still have control through a local fiduciary board, and services will be maintained in New London.

“There’s been this concern that this is going to take people down [Interstate] 95. It’s not designed to do that," said L&M spokesman Michael O'Farrell. "It’s designed to bring it the other way. Their providers are going to come here.”

And he said Yale has agreed to honor all existing labor contracts, although the shape of employment in the future still has to be decided.

“We certainly don’t have a desire to eliminate jobs, but what is going to happen through these transition teams is, how do we need to work effectively going forward?" said O'Farrell. "Can I put a guarantee on anything? No we can’t, nobody can. But we can guarantee we’re going to be here in the most efficient, cost-effective way.”

L&M has always said it would rather have remained independent, but the deal became inevitable because of the fast-changing financial realities of health care, which are driving down reimbursement rates even as medical costs go up.

“For a community hospital to exist today is nowhere near as easy or as possible as what it was 100 years ago when L&M was founded,” said O'Farrell.

For her part, Martha Marx disagrees. She said lower reimbursement can be balanced against a lower number of uninsured patients. She believes instead, the hospital has overextended itself in the past when making its own acquisitions. “They’ve made some really poor financial decisions. And shame on them - but the patients should not be losing their community hospital.”

Union and community leaders say they’re now studying the regulators’ final order closely to see what protections it affords local services in New London.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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