Brenda Buchbinder, Windham resident and co-founder of Windham United to Save Our Healthcare, testifies remotely from the town hall in opposition to Windham Hospital’s plans to close its maternity ward during a Connecticut Office of Health Strategy regulatory hearing on Wed., Nov. 10, 2021.
Opposition to the closure and impact on health disparities
Organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine recognize the dangers posed by low patient volume, but they have also concluded that “closing hospitals with low-volume obstetric services could have counterproductive adverse health consequences and potentially increase health care disparities by limiting access to maternity care.” That’s exactly what Reyes — the Windham town councilor and educator — fears for her constituents, her students and their families. “It seems like it happens to the most vulnerable and the least able to fight back communities,” she said at Windham Town Hall, where she joined members of grassroots coalition Windham United to Save Our Healthcare as they testified in opposition to the hospital’s closure plans.
A quarter of Windham residents live below the poverty level, according to DataHaven’s 2021 equity profile, compared to 10% statewide.
About 13% of Windham households do not have a vehicle, and 17% of Latino residents in Windham do not have health insurance.
Data also shows that the presence of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma and diabetes is higher among Windham residents than those living in other Windham County towns. These diseases increase the likelihood of high-risk pregnancies and delivery complications.
Leah Ralls, president of the Windham/Willimantic branch of the NAACP, said the existing disparities in the community should have been no surprise to the hospital and its owner. And she wanted to know why they didn’t foresee the current issues and invest earlier in the hospital’s obstetrics program.
Windham United to Save Our Healthcare (WUSH) believes the answer to Ms. Rall’s question is that HHC puts profits before the health of the community, especially mothers and their babies. The HHC policies by default contribute to health inequities in our region.
(The) Windham area has more high-risk maternity patients than the state average and we are already in a medically under-served area,” read a resolution passed by the Windham Town Council last year. “Many Windham area families do not have access to reliable transportation to get to and from Hartford or Norwich – exposing women in labor to more expensive ambulance rides and keeping families from accompanying them.
2010 – 428 births.
2010 – Hartford Healthcare (HHC) took over management of Windham Hospital.
2012 – HHC as parent corporation began moving support services; ie. RNs and anesthesiologists to Backus encouraging women to deliver at Backus.
2015 – ICU closed despite community and medical protest, no certificate of need was filed.
2015 – 212 births.
June 2020 – HHC announced permanent closure of Windham Maternity (in newspaper) due to dropping number of births; this took place during the pandemic lockdown, food and supply shortages, sickness and rising deaths in the areas surrounding Windham.
August 2020 – Zoom by HHC to justify their plan to outsource and regionalize maternity care away from Windham.
September 2020 – HHC filed for Certificate of Need.
October 2020 – Windham United to Save Our Healthcare (WUSH) was formed to protest the closing.
February 2021 – Zoom by WUSH to educate the community
Petitions, interviews, boom box parade, festivals, articles to paper and radio coverage.
November 5, 2021 – WUSH held a flashlight vigil.
November 10, 2021 – Public hearing of Certificate of Need Hearing with oral testimonies from the community and HHC; media was also present including NPR and Chronicle reporters.
November 17, 2021 – Final transmittal of community written support.
11/29/21 CT Mirror article
11/30/21 NPR Where We Live Podcast: Childbirth options are changing in rural Connecticut; beginning at 18:50 minutes
12/3/21 Interview by John Murphy on 2pm Pan American show at WECS