By SHERIDAN CYR
When Hartford HealthCare began building the Queen Street HealthCenter about two years ago, town leaders along with friends and associates of the Hospital of Central Connecticut Bradley Memorial Hospital were in support of the new business coming in, with an understanding between the two that Hartford HealthCare would support the historic Bradley campus and the new facility equally.
However, last week, HCC president Gary Havican reported to the Observer that conversations have begun surrounding a significant decline in patients at the Bradley campus.
“We are, again, hearing this talk about Hartford HealthCare and the Bradley hospital,” said Chris Palmieri (D). The Town Council chair said that he recently met with Hospital of Central Connecticut president Gary Havican to share his displeasure. “I felt like we were duped, deceived, by Hartford HealthCare.”
When the HealthCenter was being built, Palmieri was the council’s minority chair, and he recalls attending regular meetings with a community advisory committee that included several town leaders and representatives of HHC. The goal was to form a representation of the community and advise HHC on what the medical needs of the town were, but Palmieri said that those discussions seem to have been ignored.
“They promised they would invest in the Bradley Campus as much as they were the Queen Street building,” Palmieri said. “Now, in recent talks, it’s back to, ‘what can we do on Queen Street,’ and not so much the Bradley campus.”
Since it opened in November 2017, the HealthCenter has slowly been expanding services and offering specialties including primary care, HCC rehabilitation unit, a center for healthy aging, endocrinology, and an Ayer Neuroscience Institute offering neurology, epileptology, neurosurgery, neuropsychiatry.
The visit total in June was just under 2,000 visits, reported director of strategic planning and business development James Shimer. That number is up by 70 percent since December, the first full month of operation. The HealthCenter has employed nearly 30 providers—ranging from primary care physicians, to specialists to rehabilitation therapists—and anticipate more to come as new services open up.
As the HealthCenter has grown, the Bradley campus has continued to see a decline.
“One of the things I shared years ago and again recently, is that, I feel Hartford HealthCare is creating a self-fulfilling prophesy,” said Palmieri. “They have restricted and stripped so many services out of Bradley, that, no wonder there is a declining patient count. They’ve taken away many services.”
The HealthCenter is leasing the building from CASLE Corporation, while the Bradley campus is owned. The Planning and Zoning Commission placed a stipulation on the HealthCenter stating if HHC ever wanted to build an emergency room, they would need to go before the PZC and Town Council for approval. They would also need approval from the state’s department of public health.
“Hartford HealthCare reached out to me to have a meeting. I let them know that any discussions without an application before the commission would not be appropriate,” said PZC chair Mike DelSanto (R). “The only way PZC will get involved is if they file an application and we can hear their plans on the record.”
The Bradley campus has significant history in the town of Southington, built in 1938 with an endowment left behind by Julia Bradley after her death. Located in central Southington, it is accessible to residents, and that is what the Town Council hopes to maintain.
“I shared with them that we want nothing less than a medical facility on that site,” said Palmieri. “We would like them to explore options for maintaining an emergency room there.”
Palmieri shared some options with HHC of what could be done with the location. One is to do what was done at the Calendar House location: build a new building on the same property while keeping the old facility running, then demolish the old building and create a parking lot. Another idea was to do what the town did when renovating the middle schools: shutting down portions at a time and relocating certain services in the meantime until work is complete.
He also pointed out that Southington Care, a senior healthcare services located at the Bradley campus, is greatly successful and even has a waitlist. “Look at the success there, and maybe do something to expand on that.”
Of course, Palmieri said that Hartford HealthCare is a privately owned business.
“Unfortunately when it comes down to it, the council doesn’t realistically have a lot of authority over their business,” he said, “but, I’d like to think that if they cared about the character and integrity and needs of the community, they would want to be in collaboration and partnership with the town.”
Two of Southington’s lawmakers, Rep. Rob Sampson (R-80) and Rep. John Fusco (R-81) shared similar sentiments, but Sampson said that it really isn’t a state-level issue. At this point, the town is the one that’s negotiating with HHC.
“But I’m just as concerned about it as anyone. As a town with a population of 42,000 people with many senior citizens, we really want to have a fully operational hospital with inpatient options and an emergency room,” said Sampson. “I’m absolutely in favor of Bradley as it is, but I also understand that HHC is a private business and should be able to make its own decisions. Hopefully the town can make an attractive offer to them.”
Fusco agreed. “From a legislative standpoint, I serve a pretty senior-oriented district, so healthcare needs are an important topic. And, nobody really likes change. It’s a little scary,” he said. “Ultimately, a decision is going to be made through town officials and HHC. Hopefully, they’re going to do what’s in the best interest of the town.”
At this point, Hartford HealthCare has not indicated their long-range plans for the facility, the building, or the campus.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.