Hospital merger meets resistance
DANBURY — Uncertain about how a company will provide health care in the area, Sharon residents on Tuesday night spoke out against a proposal to merge two hospital networks in western Connecticut and the Hudson Valley.
Under the merger, a new company would oversee the Danbury-based Western Connecticut Health Network and Hudson Valley-based Health Quest Systems, creating a $2.4 billion medical system to serve 1.5 million people in New York and western Connecticut.
Under the proposal, Danbury, Norwalk and New Milford hospitals would join forces with Health Quest’s four hospitals, including Sharon Hospital, which it acquired last year. Its other hospitals are in Poughkeepsie, Carmel and Rhinebeck, N.Y.
But residents on Tuesday said Health Quest has already reneged on its word, not even a year into its three-year agreement when it
announced Sharon Hospital was closing its maternity unit and then giving conflicting explanations about what would happen. Residents said this created mistrust in Health Quest and they asked the state to hold off on approving the merger until Health Quest reveals how they will continue to provide services.
Health Quest Services President Robert Friedberg said the hospital always intended to offer maternity services. But challenges arose when Sharon OB announced it was leaving the network, causing Health Quest to hire other obstetricians who have already left because they weren’t able to deliver a lot of babies.
“Our commitment is to provide services as long as we have obstetricians,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing is part of Connecticut’s approval process for the plan, which needs to be approved by New York and the Federal Trade Commission. The presidents of both networks said the plan allows for better access to care, offers more choices, as well as creates more programs to better serve the communities’ needs. They said a larger network allows them to better recruit physicians and become more efficient. The merger would create a network of about 2,600 physicians and 12,000 employees.
“Both organizations are financially strong and deeply rooted in the community,” said John Murphy, president of the Western Connecticut Health Network in Danbury.
Murphy said creating the larger network allows them to make the needed investments in technology and people in the changing health care field.
The two presidents stressed the similarities in the two networks’ vision.
“We both can develop and strengthen our commitment to medical education,” Murphy said.
Health Quest is working with Marist College in Poughkeepsie to develop a school of medicine to train physicians. The first class is expected to start in 2022. Western Connecticut State University in Danbury already has a program with the University of Vermont School of Medicine.
Some of the residents asked those medical students work in Sharon Hospital so they can experience a rural community.
Providing care for a rural community was the biggest concern raised by the public.
“You hear about the good things of efficiencies, but in rural areas we know by nature that health care is more expensive,” said Rep.-elect Maria Horn, who will represent Sharon and the rest of the state House 64th district when the new Legislature is sworn in in January. “We worry about services being rolled into larger hospitals.”
Murphy said they use iPads to work with doctors at different hospitals to create care plans in the field and at New Milford Hospital, and a similar approach could be done for Sharon Hospital.
He stressed the need for community involvement at all of the hospitals. Each hospital will have a local board of directors to report to the board that oversees the overall network to ensure the ciommunities’ needs are being met.
“We believe in the moral sense that the communities own the hospitals,” Murphy said. “It’s terribly important to have open channels of communication.”
Sharon residents said Health Quest wasn’t working with the community, to the point that the Fund for Community Health and Health Quest are going to court because the fund hasn’t gotten any of the information or interaction it needs.
They applauded Murphy’s response and praised the Western Connecticut Health Network’s approach to the rolling out programs using community needs assessments.
Brent Colley, first selectman of Sharon, speaks during the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy public hearing for the application for the transfer of ownership of Western Connecticut Health Network, Inc. and Health Quest Systems on Tuesday night at Broadview Middle School in Danbury.