If you fracture your hip at 9pm on a Friday and are brought to Sharon Hospital, expect to wait until Monday for surgery.  That was the bleak hypothetical given by Dr. David Kurish at a recent community roundtable in Kent, organized by the non-profit group Save Sharon Hospital (SSH). The event was one of several in advance of an upcoming hearing on whether Nuvance Health, which owns and operates Sharon Hospital, will be permitted to close labor and delivery services there.

It may seem like an indirect path from the maternity unit to the ICU, but both are under threat as part of Nuvance’s “transformative plan” to slash services at the hospital, announced in September 2021. Though not officially stated, doctors at the community roundtable suggested that closing maternity is a prerequisite to cutting hours in the ICU and downgrading it to a “PCU” (progressive care unit). Whether Nuvance can legally do this is up to Connecticut’s Office of Health Strategy (OHS), which scheduled a long-awaited hearing for mid-October, but postponed it just days before.

In the meantime, uncertainty is swirling around the status of the maternity unit, which has negative consequences of its own. Some staff and patients have already transferred to other hospitals. Part of the confusion and wariness stems from the fact that the hospital has changed hands three times since 2001, and this is the second attempt to close labor and delivery in the last five years. (Save Sharon Hospital formed in 2018 to rebut the first attempt.) It is also why a 2019 change of hospital ownership came with a state-attached requirement to keep labor and delivery open for at least five years.

Dr. Howard Mortman, a longtime OB/GYN at the Sharon hospital, stressed at the roundtable that the hospital needs more than a favorable ruling from OHS. If Nuvance loses but appeals the decision it would further jeopardize the hospital’s ability to recruit staff, effectively an end-run to the planned reduction in services. For SSH and its supporters, one goal of the hearing is to convince Nuvance to come to the table in good faith.

At the roundtable and rally, SSH urged community members to submit written or oral testimony on the matter to OHS. The hearing was postponed in part because of the volume of testimony already submitted, and there may still be time in November to contribute – check savesharonhospital.org or the group’s Facebook page for the latest.

— Jane Carlen

📷: Juergen Kalwa