Medical staff votes 25 to 1 to oppose Nuvance plan
Some participants in the Oct. 2 Women’s March in Kent expressed concern about local access to reproductive care if Nuvance closes obstetrics at Sharon Hospital. 
Photo by Lans Christensen

Medical staff votes 25 to 1 to oppose Nuvance plan

SHARON — Members of the Sharon Hospital medical community were told on Wednesday morning, Sept. 29, about Nuvance’s plans for the hospital’s future — including the closing of the labor and delivery unit, and reductions in surgical services and critical care. The medical community first heard the plan only hours before the general public.

After Nuvance administrators left the meeting on Wednesday morning, held on Zoom, the medical staff voted 25 to 1 to oppose the plan. 

The doctors can’t control what Nuvance will do, according to Dr. Michael Parker, an independent doctor specializing in internal and pulmonary medicine. 

“I feel it’s really important for people to get another view of how this all happened and for the community to know that their physicians don’t agree with the process.”

Parker, who has had a practice in Sharon for 33 years, was part of the medical staff Zoom meeting on Sept. 29. He said that the doctors who voted to oppose the Nuvance plan included many longtime local physicians as well as newer doctors who are part of the Nuvance medical practice.

The vote was taken by secret ballot, Parker said, so that all the doctors could “vote their conscience.”

Parker said that he can’t speak for all the doctors but he was personally disturbed by the lack of community and physician involvement in the decision. Most of the doctors, he said, were not told of the plan until the day the announcement was made.

The presentation by Nuvance to the public can be seen online at www.nuvancehealth.org/locations/sharon-hospital/sharon-hospital-transfor....

Financials versus medical care

The administrators largely presented the financial concerns of the not-for-profit medical group, which includes several hospitals in western Connecticut and Dutchess County, N.Y. 

However, there was no mention of the other hospitals in the new strategic plan put forth on Sept. 29, which was entirely focused on Sharon Hospital. Sharon is a 78-bed acute care hospital.

Parker conceded that this is a very difficult time in health care from a financial point of view. But he challenged Nuvance’s assertions that by closing obstetrics  and other key departments they will help the hospital to stabilize and grow. 

Included in the Nuvance proposal is a reduction in surgical services and critical care.

The new plan was devised without input from the community at large or the medical community, Parker said. The hospital does get input from a community board, and from the Foundation for Community Health in Sharon. 

It was the Foundation that had requested that an independent consultant look at Sharon Hospital, Parker said. 

Stroudwater Associates was hired — and supported Nuvance’s plan to cut back services. 

No community input

Parker said he feels Stroudwater’s conversations with doctors (based on his own interview) were brief and insufficient. 

Those interviews, he said, “should not be construed as part of the planning. We, the doctors, were not involved.”

After hearing rumors of impending cuts, a small group of doctors formed the Physican Leadership Council and asked to meet with Nuvance President and CEO John Murphy  in mid June. 

Murphy agreed to the meeting and gave them a preview of what Nuvance had in mind, and invited the physicians to try and come up with a better plan. 

Before sharing any information with the physicians, Murphy pledged them to secrecy.

“We were asked not to share the information with anybody, including our colleagues,” Parker said. “Which effectively hamstrung us and prevented us from brainstorming any solutions.”

The physicians asked for full financial information on the hospital at that time, but their request was denied. 

Parker believes that there might have been a different outcome if the medical staff had been given all the facts right away.

“I believe that if the process was open and fluid, the conclusions might be different about how to save our community hospital.”

The Physican Leadership Council was later given a PowerPoint presentation by the Stroudwater group summarizing their findings.

The end of obstetrics

Parker criticized several specific elements of the Nuvance proposal, including the proposed shuttering of obstetrics. It makes no sense, he said, that Nuvance said in their announcement that they plan to close obstetrics but expand women’s services. 

While closing labor and delivery, will save costs, it will also reduce several sources of revenue, Parker believes, such as elective gynecologic surgery and C-sections and imaging.

Even worse, it will eliminate the ob-gyn doctors who, he said, “provide primary care for many of the women in this region. So, you’re cutting women’s services at the same time you say that you’re going to grow them.”

Primary care, Parker said, is the key to the future of the hospital. Without primary care physicians to see patients here, he said, there are no referrals to medical specialists at Sharon Hospital, from surgeons to radiologists. 

Need for more primary care docs

There is a critical  shortage of primary care physicians in the region now, Parker said — and most of the doctors who do have practices here are approaching (or have already reached) their mid 60s and are beginning to think about retirement. 

Nuvance’s efforts to grow primary care and ob-gyn care, Parker said, have been insufficient. 

“They’ve shown that they can neither recruit nor retain doctors successfully.”

Nuvance can not proceed with many of its plans until it gets approval from the state.

Parker said he has been in contact with state Rep. Maria Horn (D-64).

“My hope would be that we can put the brakes on this, collect ourselves and see if we can save this hospital without curtailing essential services.”

The Lakeville Journal requested interviews with representatives from the Foundation for Community Health in Sharon and from the Sharon Hospital community board. Those requests had not been responded to by press time. 

We hope to interview doctors in the obstetrics and gynecology community for upcoming issues. 

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