Windham Hospital Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Labor and community advocates from the Windham area stood on a noisy Hartford street corner Monday morning to call for the restoration of maternity services to Windham Hospital ahead of Hartford HealthCare’s Friday deadline to appeal a decision by state regulators. 

In a proposed decision back in July, regulators at the state Office of Health Strategy, recommended rejecting the health care system’s 2020 decision to close Windham’s obstetric unit. At the time, Hartford HealthCare cited declining births and staffing difficulties and indicated it would review options including appealing the regulators’ decision.

But as the Friday deadline to appeal draws near, community advocates and unions representing health care workers staged a press conference outside Hartford Hospital to call for the restoration of the Windham area maternity ward.

“We are the community and we refuse to be a health care desert so Hartford HealthCare can bloom elsewhere,” Brenda Buchbinder, a Windham resident and vice president of Natchaug Hospital Unions United, said. 

“We hope that the state will heed the fact that so many people in our end of the state do not want this to happen, cannot see this happen and it must not happen,” Lynne Ide, Windham resident and policy director of the Universal Healthcare Foundation of Connecticut, said.

In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for Hartford HealthCare said that years of declining births and obstetrical recruitment challenges had made it “impossible to provide a safe, quality childbirth experience at Windham Hospital,”

“We have a plan for childbirth in the Windham area that provides high-quality, coordinated care for mothers and their babies at a hospital of the mother’s choice, including transportation,” a spokesperson for Hartford HealthCare said in the statement. “We have enhanced pre- and post-partum care at Windham Hospital and in the region. We remain committed to ensuring that the community has access to the highest-quality care.”

In the July proposed ruling, an Office of Health Strategy hearing 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.”