State rejects plan to close Sharon Hospital maternity unit
In a remote corner of northwestern Connecticut, expecting mothers are breathing a sigh of relief. State regulators have ordered Sharon Hospital’s maternity ward to stay open – for now.
It’s the latest battle over rapidly shrinking rural health care in Connecticut.
‘MY WATER BROKE IN THE CAR’
Lydia Moore gave birth to her daughter a month ago. She only had minutes to get to the hospital.
“I live one hour from Danbury Hospital and 50 minutes from Vassar Brothers in Poughkeepsie,” said Moore. “My water broke in the car, on the way to the hospital. And our daughter was born 40 minutes after we arrived.”
Moore helped form the group Save Sharon Hospital, which is fighting Nuvance Health’s efforts to close the maternity ward at Sharon Hospital.
Nuvance has said days can go by without a single delivery and that resources could be better utilized elsewhere.
“This hospital faces serious financial hardships and a very under-utilized maternity unit with declining births and considerable operational costs,” said Nuvance spokesperson Andrea Rynn.
But state regulators disagreed. This week, the Connecticut State Office of Health Strategy issued a proposed final decision ordering Sharon Hospital’s maternity ward to stay open.
“Even when alternative arrangements are made and emergency department staff is as fully prepared as possible, rural [Labor and Delivery] closure results in bad quality and safety outcomes, including premature birth, low-birth weight, maternal mortality, severe maternal morbidity, increased risk of postpartum depression,” the ruling said.
OHA was particularly worried about the impact on Black mothers, who die at an alarming rate giving birth.
Nuvance has until Sept. 18 to appeal.
Sharon Hospital is also asking to downgrade its intensive care unit. A decision on that is expected by October.
NOT JUST SHARON
Across the state, maternity units are disappearing – especially in rural areas. Seven have already closed or are asking to, including at Milford and New Milford hospitals.
The Connecticut Hospital Association said the closures are necessary, given declining births, recruitment challenges and financial pressure.
“Closing a birthing unit is not a decision that is made lightly,” OHA said in a statement. “Hospitals want nothing more than to provide access to the highest quality care to every patient in every situation. But staffing shortages, decreases in births, and skyrocketing temporary worker costs are serious challenges. Ignoring them doesn't make the challenges go away.”
But critics accuse hospitals of getting greedy. Health care networks are rapidly consolidating across the nation – bestowing CEOs with huge salaries but leaving small towns behind.
“Organizations are coming into communities like this and have one purpose in mind – and it is to make a profit,” said Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Waterbury).
To close the gap in rural areas, a new state law lets midwives operate free-standing “birthing centers.” The law also allows for certified doulas, which are pregnancy coaches.
"These clinics are going to be more widely available – bring health care to you,” Gov. Ned Lamont said on March 13. “What we're trying to do in terms of providing nursing is support pre- and post-birth.”
But right now, the closest birthing center to Sharon is in Danbury, an hour away.
Moore's baby had a complication: the umbilical cord was wrapped around its neck. If Sharon Hospital’s maternity ward was shut down, she worries about what could have been.
“What if my wonderful, but untrained, husband had to pull over on the side of the road – in the dark, no less – to deliver my baby, our baby?” she asked.