Informed Community ≠ Hostile Position

By Stephanye R. Clarke

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Last week, in a standing-room only space, community members, leaders and hospital employees gathered to learn about how the Yale-New Haven Health System/Lawrence + Memorial Hospital “affiliation” could impact the community.

Initially billed as a community forum, the event doubled as an information session with community conversations.

Connecticut Citizen Action Group, and many other concerned partner organizations, convened the session to inform the public about proposed changes to the community hospital feel of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital if/when the affiliation with Yale is finalized. According to one local reporter, “The purpose of the forum, which drew about 100 people, was to inspire a community dialogue about the proposed affiliation and motivate local residents to get involved in the process when state regulators take it up again.”

The turnout was wonderful—this was my first exposure to such an event. Many people I’d spoken to in person and online didn’t have a clear idea of what the proposed “affiliation” would look like and we were given some powerful testimony about both positive and negative outcomes.

Sadly, some walked away with the understanding that this was an attack on the proposed “affiliation”—that’s not at all the impression I left with.

I heard from researchers who pushed back against Lawrence + Memorial ’s cries of being financially strapped; from a physician who made a very good case for the feel and viability of a true community hospital; from an advocate who witnessed the gutting of the Windham Hospital; from union representatives and community advocates.

My takeaway was not at all that anyone speaking or that had contributed to the planning of the information session was necessarily against the proposed “affiliation.”

To the contrary—it may very well be in the best interests of all involved—the two hospital systems and the community. I believe that all the participating parties and community members would like is to know in very simple terms how this “affiliation” will impact care at the local level.

Will more routine and mundane services be referred to New Haven? What about patients with limited or no access to reliable transportation—and will their family members have to convalesce alone because of transportation issues? A community health needs assessment for Lawrence + Memorial Hospital is in the works– will Yale invest in community health, paying attention to the particular needs of the community? Will a local board still be a strong decision-making partner as it relates to the local hospital? Will Yale begin slashing jobs, creating a horrible ripple effect on the area’s already-struggling economy? Will the community voice even be considered at all? And what about pricing—how will the “affiliation” impact pricing? People can barely afford to cover copays, insurance premiums and other associated costs—will this “affiliation” result in a steep increase in prices?

These are some of the many questions I have and I am grateful for the reprieve, by way of Governor Malloy’s Executive Order, which allows for the answering of these and other questions, and so that the community can be better informed and have the opportunity to be engaged.

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