State Health Officials Propose Rejecting Request to Close Windham Hospital Maternity UnitWindham Hospital Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A hearing officer with the state Office of Health Strategy has recommended denying a request by Hartford HealthCare to shut down the maternity unit at Windham Hospital, leaving the health system weighing its legal options including appeal. 

In a proposed final decision released on Tuesday, the Office of Health Strategy said the proposed closure of the hospital’s obstetric unit may negatively affect services and patient choice in an economically distressed community. 

Advocates and labor leaders who have opposed efforts to close the unit since it was shuttered in 2020 welcomed the proposed decision in a Wednesday press release from a coalition called Windham United to Save our Healthcare. 

“This is a testament to the power of people standing up for themselves,” Lynne Ide, a member of the coalition, said. “Hartford HealthCare made a callous and cynical decision. They were wrong to think it was okay to do more harm. Now they must undo this mistake and listen to the community.”

In a statement, Hartford HealthCare said it was deeply disappointed by the findings of the Office of Health Strategy and was reviewing its legal options, which include an appeal.

“As our Certificate of Need application explained, and as experts testified, after years of declining births (an average of two per week) and obstetrical recruitment challenges, it has become impossible to provide a safe, quality childbirth experience at Windham Hospital due to departures of obstetricians and trained staff,” the written statement from Hartford HealthCare said.

Attorney General William Tong released a statement Wednesday praising the Office of Health Strategy decision as protecting patients in one of the state’s underserved communities. 

“This is the right decision for the health and safety of mothers and babies in the Windham area,” Tong said. “Asking parents to travel another 25-45 minutes to undergo a major medical procedure at a different hospital would have created an additional burden and risk. I thank the Office of Health Strategy for carefully considering these critical factors, and for this draft decision.”

The hospital system cited its plan to transport Windham-area mothers to nearby hospitals to receive care. However, the Office of Health Strategy officer questioned how the system would fund the free transportation and suggested the additional transit time could be detrimental for expecting mothers in emergency situations. 

“[T]he best case scenario is that it would take a patient twenty-seven (27) minutes from arrival at [Windham Hospital] to get to a different hospital even by ambulance,” the hearing officer wrote. “But this does not take into account travel time from wherever the laboring individual happens to be to the hospital. Nor does it take into account other variables that can increase the time it would take to get to a hospital, such as not knowing whether she is in active labor and not being able to access personal transportation.”