September 5, 2012
By William Weir
“We’re a group of people here today who are tired and frustrated, but tomorrow we have some great ideas,” Darlene Stromstad, CEO of Waterbury Hospital, said Tuesday.
Earlier this summer, as a means of addressing the church’s concerns, officials at Waterbury Hospital proposed that a stand-alone facility – separate from the merged hospital — be built for tubal ligation procedures. Chad Wable, CEO for St. Mary’s Hospital, said officials at the Vatican have given their approval for such a facility. Catholic-affiliated hospitals do not allow the procedure, in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are blocked as a means to prevent pregnancy.
However, because the stand-alone facility would not be equipped to serve women who are considered “high-risk,” the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women didn’t approve the plan.
For the merger to go through, the state needs to ensure that it won’t compromise medical services.
Teresa Younger, executive director of the commission, said that a concern from the beginning has been that the merger should still allow for tubal ligations for all women and to offer them at the time that women give birth. A facility that offers the procedure only for low-risk women, she said, would fail to serve the people who need it the most.
“It’s well known that all deliveries carry inherent risk and that babies do not necessarily arrive on schedule or according to plan,” Younger said in a prepared statement. “Therefore, even women in the select category may find themselves, or their baby, in distress due to unforeseen factors.”
Stromstad said Waterbury Hospital understood the concerns on both sides. “But our vision was not to have a freestanding facility that can do everything for everybody, because that would be cost prohibitive.”
When the merger plan was announced more than a year ago, the proposal was to build a “hospital-within-a-hospital,” in which a separate facility, independently operated but in the same building, would provide reproductive health services that Catholic doctrine prohibits. A similar system was put in place at Northeast Health in Troy, N.Y., where several Catholic and secular institutions merged three years ago.
However, Archbishop Henry Mansell of the Archdiocese of Hartford was consulted on the plan and said it was not acceptable.
Younger said the hospital-within-a-hospital solution was the plan that her commission most favored. Other plans that were acceptable to the commission have been rejected for similar reasons.
“Every time we’ve talked to [hospital officials], they have gone back and talked to the archbishop, who told them no,” Younger said.
Sheila Reynertson, advocacy coordinator for MergerWatch, an organization that fights to preserve reproductive health services in hospital mergers, said the issues that put this merger in jeopardy have toppled many other plans to merger Catholic-affiliated and secular hospitals.
With $400 million committed by the LHP Hospital Group of Plano, Texas, the deal would combine the two Waterbury hospitals into a new 750,000-square-foot facility, which could accommodate about 300 in-patients and outpatients per day — the average total now handled by both hospitals. The two hospitals are not-for-profit, but after the merger the new medical center — yet to be named — will be for-profit. LHP will own 80 percent of the venture, and each hospital will own 10 percent.