By Lindsay Carey
Hartford Healthcare officials held a “Community Conversation” at Derynoski Elementary School Monday night to hear the concerns of Southington residents about the changes at Bradley Memorial Hospital.
Hartford Healthcare was represented by Tricia Walden, Lucille Janatka, president of the central region of Hartford Healthcare and Jim Blazar, senior vice president and chief of strategy for Hartford Healthcare.
Noting the recent fiery Town Council meeting where she represented Hartford Healthcare, Walden noted that hospital officials needed to better engage the community.
“That meeting made it clear that we needed to do a much better job of engaging all of you and understanding your perspectives so that we can co-create the best possible health care delivery system for the town of Southington,” said Walden.”
Walden assembled a Community Advisory Committee made up of Hartford Healthcare staff, Town Council members, doctors, and leaders of community organizations for input on Bradley’s future. Hartford Healthcare also responded to the concerns of the community by pausing the Certificate of Need to close the inpatient unit at Bradley, which was scheduled to be sent to the state in September (see story page 2).
Hospital officials did publically announce that they are planning on opening a full service emergency room, which is believed to go on Queen Street.
“Make no mistake Hartford Healthcare is committed to providing a 24/7, 365 day a year emergency department, no laps in service,” said Walden. “It would be staffed with fully credentialed emergency physicians.”
However, the Hartford Healthcare representatives maintained that they are open to listening to the community and that no final decisions have been made.
Blazar said that Hartford Healthcare is just beginning to develop a strategic plan for the central region.
“We’re always looking at our opportunities, looking at our community needs and evaluating how we can grow,” said Janatka.
Many of the residents who spoke shared their frustrations with Hartford Healthcare’s proposed changes.
Bonnie Sica’s first question for the panel was whether the Certificate of Need had been withdrawn or postponed, because it seemed unclear.
Janatka responded and said that they are pressing the “pause button” on the certificate and that it has not yet been submitted.
Others questioned the integrity of the Community Advisory Committee that Hartford Healthcare had formed. There was only one citizen, Rosemary Champagne, chosen to be on the board. Although, Champagne has spearheaded much of the fight against closing Bradley Memorial and got 4,000 signatures to petition in a fairly short time, many people said that one person was not enough.
Charles Cosgrove, who has been working in healthcare for 51 years, said he felt that the committee needed less public figures and more everyday citizens.
“If you want some grassroots and you want community involvement then get some people who aren’t handpicked,” said Cosgrove. “Let’s get some consumers on there, let’s get people who have worked in the hospital… I would hate to think that you’re using this forum, so that when you go for the Certificate of Need you say we have community involvement.”
Cheryl Lounsbury, vice-chair of the Town Council, expressed the same concern that the committee was handpicked.
“It’s not a very balanced committee at all,” she said.
Lounsbury also shared her disappointment in Hartford Healthcare for the way it has handled the closing of services at the Bradley campus.
About a year ago, Lounsbury invited representatives from Hartford Healthcare to a town council meeting to speak to the concerns that the hospital would be closing. The representatives assured the council and the people that Bradley would not close.
However, within the year, Lounsbury said she’s watched the hospital shut down several departments at the Bradley campus, without notice.
“What you’ve said is very hard to believe, I’ve lost faith in you truthfully,” said Lounsbury, during the community conversation. “Actions speak louder than words and your actions have consistently contradicted your words.”
She also explained that closing the hospital would cause problems not only medically, but financially for the town. Lounsbury said doctors would inevitably leave to work elsewhere.
James Gura shared his perspective as the son of the late Dr. George Gura, who served the Southington community.
“My father knew his patients. He knew the children of his patients and their children,” said Gura. “Those are the doctors we have in Southington now.”
Gura also said that Hartford Healthcare had already bought the building for the emergency room on Queen Street, but hasn’t begun construction. The panel did not respond.
Several others said that they thought it unreasonable to have an emergency room located on Queen Street, where there is often traffic and car accidents.
Despite Hartford Healthcare’s promises that Bradley will not close, many of the members of the community who spoke said that they felt Hartford Healthcare’s plans have deviated from the intentions of the Bradley and Barnes families who founded the hospital.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the hospitals that make up your corporation had their beginnings in mansions and houses on hills owned by wealthy citizens of those particular communities, so that babies could be born safely and they could get compassion and care,” said Cosgrove.
The representatives from Hartford Healthcare maintained that they are looking for a solution that will best fit the needs of Southington.
“The vision is to provide something newer, better and larger than what we have today with advanced technology and services,” said Walden. “This is not the death of Bradley, this is the rebirth.”