By Lynne Ide
Last night, a few hundred people came out to a forum on the future of Windham Hospital hosted by area legislators. People from all walks of life spoke out about the erosion of services at the small, community hospital since its 2009 affiliation with the large Hartford HealthCare network.
The evening’s testimony documented the human and economic fall-out of corporate decisions made with no local input. Speakers also called on the state to get ahead of the curve on the shifting hospital landscape via more aggressive regulation and planning for the future.
Is what’s happening in Windham a portent of things to come? How many of the state’s small, community hospitals will be swallowed up by big hospital networks – such as Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health Systems – and whittled down to feeder systems for the “mothership?”
Some of this trend may not be so bad – and some may be good. But so far, if you count on Windham Hospital for care, it all feels like bad news.
Doctors are not being consulted. Nurses and support staff are losing jobs and those left behind feel uneasy about the impact change will have on care. The local community-based board has been disbanded. Vulnerable patients are being transported to Hartford or Norwich – away from the support of their families and for care that costs us all more. Local hospital services are eroded or discontinued. Community leaders are left to read about Hartford HealthCare’s plans for Windham Hospital through press releases or ads in the local paper. The best interests of low-income, elderly, medically frail and under-served rural patients play second fiddle to the corporate interests of Hartford HealthCare.
The list goes on.
The bottom line is that the state’s one-by-one, slow-to-react approach to dealing with the challenges of small hospitals staying afloat in the face of rapidly expanding health systems is not good enough.
The people served by Windham Hospital deserve better from Hartford HealthCare and our state’s leaders. Now is the time for a state health care plan that takes into account the needs of real, everyday people and puts them first – and then figures out a statewide approach to delivering the quality care we all need, when we need it, at a price we can afford