07/08/2022

A victory for union-led community coalition to save maternity services

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It’s been two years since Hartford HealthCare shuttered labor and delivery services at Windham Community Memorial Hospital in Willimantic, Conn. During that time, community activists, including AFT Connecticut, banded together to form a grassroots coalition—Windham United to Save Our Healthcare—to fight the decision. On July 6, the state’s Office of Health Strategy issued its decision rejecting the healthcare system’s plan to end the service.

people holding sign urging hartford healthcare to reopen the windham maternity unitPhoto courtesy of Windham United to Save Our Healthcare

The decision by the state regulatory agency is a victory for the coalition of affiliated health, consumer, faith, labor and civil rights organizations that provided official public testimony, organized local community demonstrations, and spearheaded advertising campaigns to restore the terminated services.

OHS reviewed Hartford HealthCare's certificate-of-need application for approval to officially close the service for nearly two years. The agency also fined Hartford HealthCare for the premature closure during the investigation. It was ordered to pay $151,000 and $1,000 for each additional day it fails to restore WCMH's inpatient obstetric services, violating state law.

In their proposed final decision, OHS officials cite a national trend of chains like HHC closing obstetrics services in similar rural areas as exacerbating “difficulties in maternal care.” The threat of documented “poorer birth outcomes” due to insufficient access to labor and delivery facilities and services for women and babies galvanized the coalition early on.

“The decision made by OHS shows the state understands the need for services like labor and delivery in Connecticut's communities,” says Leah Ralls, president of the local NAACP and a coalition member. “Our coalition has worked tirelessly alongside the bedside care and support staff at WCMH,” she says. “A full, permanent reopening of the maternity unit remains the best outcome we all can hope for.”

“This is a testament to the power of people standing up for themselves,” says Lynne Ide of Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, a coalition member. “Hartford HealthCare made a callous and cynical decision. They were wrong to think it was OK to do more harm. Now they must undo this mistake and listen to the community,” adds Ide, the foundation’s program lead for communications, outreach and engagement.

“As nurses, our No. 1 priority is access to safe patient care,” says Andrea Riley, emergency department nurse at Windham and a coalition member. “That’s reflected in our many proposals to HHC’s lawyers in current contract negotiations. It’s gratifying to see state officials share our concerns—and take appropriate action to protect our community,” adds Riley, president of the Windham Hospital Registered Nurses, AFT Local 5041.

[Adrienne Coles, Windham United to Save Our Healthcare press release]