Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs is seeks to permanently close its labor and delivery unitjoining several other rural Connecticut hospitals to cut maternity and other services.
In a press release Wednesday, Trinity Health of New England, which acquired Johnson Memorial Hospital and Home and Community Health Services in 2016, outlined the health system’s plans to “transform its hospital services to meet the current and future needs of the local community more effectively.”
In addition to the labor and delivery unit, the hospital plans to discontinue surgical services, the intensive care unit and the medical/surgical unit at the Johnson Memorial campus in Stafford. Laboring patients will be told to give birth at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, 30 miles away; outpatient surgeries will be performed at Johnson Memorial’s Enfield campus; and the other services will be made available “at another Trinity Health of New England hospital,” according to the press release.
Trinity noted that Johnson Memorial will file a required public notice through the state’s Office of Health Strategy, requesting approval to close the labor and delivery unit. “These proposed changes are expected to take approximately 12 to 18 months to implement and are subject to approval by the state’s Office of Health Strategy (OHS),” the press release said.
An OHS representative was not immediately available for comment.
Patient advocates have argued that cutting services in rural hospitals can have several negative impacts, such as limiting access to care, increasing costs for patients, and reducing choice – all of which can have the combined effect of exacerbating existing health inequalities. Many pointed to the danger to patients giving birth who have no means of transport to take them to another hospital.
The changes Trinity plans for Johnson Memorial align closely with those proposed in recent years by other rural Connecticut hospitals. These hospitals share a common characteristic: they have all passed under the ownership of large health systems. As hospital systems consolidate, they often reorganize – eliminate services less profitable or duplicative.
Prospect Medical Holdings, a Los Angeles-based company that owns 16 hospitals across the country, including three in Connecticut, sought to downgrade its intensive care unit and halt surgical services at Rockville General Hospital in Vernon. Nuvance Health, which has seven hospitals in western Connecticut and the Hudson Valley, has called for Sharon Hospital’s birthing unit to be eliminated and the intensive care unit to be replaced with this called a progressive care unit.
Last week, Hartford HealthCare, which has seven hospitals in Connecticut, was initially denied its request to cut labor and delivery services at Windham Hospital, about 40 minutes from Hartford. The hospital now has the opportunity to appeal this decision before the state makes its final decision.
Trinity Health has three hospitals in Connecticut. The health system suspended labor and delivery at Johnson Memorial following a March 2020 executive order from Governor Ned Lamont that allowed hospitals to temporarily close some departments to increase capacity for patients with coronavirus. Birthing services resumed at Johnson Memorial in July 2020 but closed again in October of that year.
Last month, the Health Strategy Office fined Johnson Memorial $394,000 to end labor and delivery services without approval – $1,000 per day for 394 days. Until this week, Trinity had said it planned to reopen the unit once it could find suitable staff.
Now he’s trying to block the unit.
Lisa Knightly, president of the AFT union’s Johnson Memorial Hospital nurses’ chapter, said she and her fellow members were “concerned about the future well-being of our community”. Oversight of OHS is critical, “given the scope of the proposed transformation of care to be provided at our hospital and at facilities across the region,” Knightly said in an emailed statement.
“This part of Connecticut is quickly becoming a healthcare wasteland, leaving patients to travel long distances for vital healthcare services,” she said.
As part of its planned “services transformation”, Trinity is increasing investments in behavioral health, as well as geriatric care, assisted living and senior housing at its Stafford campus, and increasing cancer services and of outpatient surgery at its Enfield campus, he said. .
“Redesigning care delivery to safely meet the needs of the local community remains the hospital’s top priority,” the press release said. “This will enable Johnson Memorial to achieve new levels of excellence in patient-centered care and service, while continuing its longstanding commitment to the local community.”
Trinity stressed that it strives to comply with OSH regulations. John Brady, executive vice-president of the AFT CT, a union that represents healthcare workers, said he found it encouraging.
“We hope this bodes well… for a more transparent approach in the future. Our guiding principle is to protect the needs of the communities we serve,” he said in an emailed statement.