[Excerpt of news report by Nicole Leonard, CT Public Radio, 11/14/2021]
A community hospital that’s been delivering babies for 88 years at its site in the Willimantic section of Windham is now seeking final approval from the state to end its obstetrics program.
Windham Hospital leaders say labor and delivery at the facility has become unsafe due to a drop in birth volume and a lack of qualified obstetricians available to consistently staff the unit. But community activists argue a permanent closure will disproportionately hurt the town’s most vulnerable residents.
“It’s a spider web. It impacts us on the economic development side, on the quality of life attributes, on being able to sell the idea that this is a town worth being in, a city that’s growing,” said Rose Reyes, town council member and bilingual educator. “I mean, how do you call yourself a city without a maternity ward?”
The last baby born at the hospital was delivered on June 16, 2020 before obstetrical services were indefinitely suspended. Patients have since been directed and transported to high-volume hospitals in the state’s eastern region for delivery.
Officials from Windham Hospital and its owner, Hartford HealthCare, petitioned the state Office of Health Strategy during a regulatory hearing Wednesday to make those changes permanent.
Organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recognize the dangers posed by low patient volume, but have also concluded that “closing hospitals with low-volume obstetric services could have counterproductive adverse health consequences and potentially increase health care disparities by limiting access to maternity care.”
That’s exactly what Reyes -- the Windham town councilor and educator -- fears for her constituents, her students, and their families.
“It seems like it happens to the most vulnerable and the least able to fight back communities,” she said at Windham Town Hall, where she joined members of grassroots coalition Windham United to Save Our Healthcare as they testified in opposition to the hospital’s closure plans.
A quarter of Windham residents live below the poverty level, according to DataHaven’s 2021 equity profile, compared to 10% statewide.
About 13% of Windham households do not have a vehicle, and 17% of Latino residents in Windham do not have health insurance.
Data also shows that the presence of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma, and diabetes is higher among Windham residents than those living in other Windham County towns. These diseases increase the likelihood of high-risk pregnancies and delivery complications.
Leah Ralls, president of the Windham/Willimantic branch of the NAACP, said the existing disparities in the community should have been no surprise to the hospital and its owner. And she wanted to know why they didn’t foresee the current issues and invest earlier in the hospital’s obstetrics program.
[Listen to the radio report at the link.]