n September, 2021, Nuvance Health announced plans to shut the Labor and Delivery unit at Sharon Hospital. A 78-bed general hospital in Connecticut’s Litchfield County, Sharon Hospital services a community of thousands of people, and the nearest hospital is at least 45 minutes away. Nuvance Health’s explanation: Reduced patient demand and staffing challenges, which were further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 12,000 people are employed by Nuvance Health’s network of hospitals and Sharon Hospital is one of the largest employers in Litchfield County. Sharon Hospital’s physicians and nurse practitioners voted 25-to-1 against the proposed cuts. In addition to closing maternity, the planned cuts include discontinuing after-hour surgeries and replacing the intensive care unit with a lower acuity unit.

In January, 2022, Nuvance submitted its application to the state of Connecticut to close Sharon Hospital’s Maternity Unit. The next step in the regulatory process, which is being governed by Connecticut’s Office of Health Strategy (OHS), is a public hearing to be held on Tuesday, October 18, 2022 starting at 10am via Zoom, with public testimony scheduled to begin at 3pmThe public is encouraged to provide written or oral testimony (details below). After the meeting, OHS will make a decision.

The Closing’s Impact on a Rural Community

As rural hospital closures occur more frequently in America, many patients are being left without access to timely, expert quality care. This raises ethical questions about hospitals’ responsibilities to their communities. Is the hospital’s duty to its bottom line greater than its duty to the community it serves? There’s also the enormous toll that closures take on the local economy.

“If Nuvance closes the maternity unit and follows its previously stated plan to shut down the capability of doing after-hours surgeries, it will be catastrophic to the safety of women and their families,” says Dr. Howard Mortman, OBGYN. He has been delivering babies at Sharon Hospital for 31 years.

Dr. Mortman chose obstetrics and gynecology specifically because his own sister became severely impaired due to delayed care during delivery.

“We live in an area that is isolated from other hospitals with maternity units. Without a maternity unit in Sharon, women and babies will die. Serious lifelong morbidity will be inevitable,” says Dr. Mortman.

Dangers of Delivery

He explains that at any moment, the birth of a baby can turn dramatically dangerous such as when there is a sudden drop in the fetal heart rate, maternal hemorrhage, eclamptic seizure, or shoulder dystocia. It is common to have obstetrical and gynecological emergencies, not infrequently when least expected in otherwise normal pregnancies or healthy patients. These situations require highly trained skilled experts to minimize poor outcomes.

The idea that the hospital can be understaffed, under qualified, and under equipped is untenable. “Our community will become a healthcare desert. We have been meeting the obstetrical and gynecological needs of our service area seamlessly for the more than 30 years I have practiced here,” adds Dr. Mortman.

He believes that the closure of the Maternity Ward will have a staggering ripple effect. The doctors in the Emergency Department will be unqualified to deal with potentially catastrophic events, which includes ruptured ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages that are hemorrhaging, and twisted ovaries to name just a few examples.

America’s Maternal Health Crisis

In June of 2022, The White House released the “White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis.” Its first goal is to increase access to, and coverage of, high-quality health services. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an article that stated that 4 out of 5 maternal deaths are preventable and that patients need better access to care.

Predating Nuvance’s ownership, Sharon has continued to maintain a 5-star safety rating for quality patient care from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“This is rare for a rural hospital and speaks of Sharon’s exceptional level of care. Currently only three hospitals in the state of Connecticut have this rating. Maternity services and OBGYN back up to the ER and play a big role in this rating,” concludes Dr. Mortman.

Get involved!

Save Sharon Hospital, a nonprofit community organization, encourages the community to participate in several upcoming events including three community roundtables and a rally, leading up to the public hearing.

Committed to supporting and maintaining the full range of services at Sharon Hospital, Save Sharon Hospital was formed in 2018—the last time Sharon Hospital’s owners attempted to shutter the unit, becoming a nonprofit organization in December 2021.

 “In the summer of 2018, it was announced that maternity would stay open at Sharon Hospital indefinitely, so the September 2021 announcement of a pending maternity closure came as a terrible shock to the community,” says Lydia Moore, one of the founders of Save Sharon Hospital. “In addition, when Sharon Hospital’s prior owners merged with a Connecticut-based hospital corporation to create Nuvance Health, they signed an agreement with the state to maintain maternity and the ICU for at least five years. This five-year term is not up until April 1, 2024.” Not to be deterred, Save Sharon Hospital stated, “Together, we can do it again.”

 Join the Community Roundtables

The community roundtables will be hosted by Save Sharon Hospital. Speakers include Dr. Howard Mortman OBGYN and Dr. David Kurish, an Internal Medicine physician and Cardiologist, along with Save Sharon Hospital community members.

“These roundtables will provide the community with real information about what’s happening at the hospital from the doctors’ perspectives, and also what is happening at the state level. They will also help ensure that community members know how they can provide testimony at the upcoming public hearings and hopefully encourage OHS to deny Nuvance’s application to close maternity,” says Moore.

The Community Roundtables will be held on:

  • Friday, September 23, 2022 at 6pm, St. Bernard Church, 52 New St., Sharon, CT
  • Thursday, September 29 at 4pm, Scoville Memorial Library’s Wardell Community Room, Salisbury, CT
  • Wednesday, October 5 at 6pm, Northeast-Millerton Library Annex, Millerton, NY

“If the maternity ward closes, it will place a strain on women in the community who have come to rely on the expert care they’ve been receiving. We need to avoid preventable disasters and maintain this beautiful, safe area we have here in Sharon. Closing the unit is an unspeakable idea and will destroy the net of safety we have built for women and their families,” concludes Dr. Mortman.

Let’s Rally

On Sunday, October 16 at 2pm, a Rally to Save Sharon Hospital will be held at the Sharon Town Green, 63 Main St., Sharon, CT. The community is encouraged to attend. Doctors, public officials, and members of the community will share the many ways in which the public can take action to help save Sharon Hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit.

“This event invites the community to come and find out how they can make a difference and hopefully save Sharon Hospital’s maternity unit from closing. We will be signing letters to send to the state and will encourage community members to provide testimony at the public hearing,” says Moore.

Public Hearing

The Public Hearing will be held on Tuesday, October 18th via Zoom. This important event will determine whether Nuvance will be granted permission to shutter the Sharon Hospital labor and delivery unit. Community members are encouraged to provide oral and/or written testimony to encourage OHS to deny Nuvance’s application.

The OHS recently made a preliminary decision to deny Hartford HealthCare’s application to close the labor and delivery unit at Windham Hospital in Windham, CT. This ruling was appealed by Hartford HealthCare and is now pending a final decision.

“I think this bodes well for our community. We believe that we have a real opportunity to convince the state at the public hearing that we need the labor and delivery unit to remain in our community,” says Moore. Take Action Now

To provide an ORAL TESTIMONY, please log into Zoom (visit: savesharonhospital.org for the link) on October 18th at 2pm to sign up to testify. The public testimony starts at 3pm.

To provide a WRITTEN TESTIMONY, please email your testimony to OHS at ohs@ct.gov by October 17th. Please reference Docket No. 22-32511-CON.

Main Street Magazine will have a follow-up article with Nuvance’s thoughts on the matter in early October, so stay tuned.

Save Sharon Hospital held a previous rally and the community turned up.