House passes bill requiring approval to close hospital programs

The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would require hospitals to get state approval before eliminating inpatient or outpatient services.

The bill, which passed 93 to 53 and now goes to the Senate, was inspired by the closure of the birthing center at Rockville General Hospital last year. Until last year, hospitals seeking to terminate services were required to get approval, known as a certificate of need, from the state Office of Health Care Access. But as part of a broader change to the certificate of need process last year, lawmakers eliminated the requirement for state approval to discontinue services, unless they involved mental health or substance abuse.

Rockville General’s parent company, Eastern Connecticut Health Network, decided to close the hospital’s birthing center and eliminate inpatient obstetrical services in response to a drop in the number of deliveries, difficulty recruiting staff and the departure of a staff obstetrician. An ECHN official said earlier this year that the hospital would have been able to get a certificate of need to make the changes had one been required.

Rep. Claire L. Janowski, D-Vernon, who proposed the bill, said it would not require hospitals to do anything more than they did before last year.

Rep. Timothy J. Ackert, R-Coventry, said he generally does not seek to have more government or mandates, but supported the bill.

“It’s not like a Home Depot closing the gardening shop,” he said. “These hospitals serve a community.”

But other lawmakers opposed the bill, arguing that it would impose a burden on hospitals.

“I really believe and I have faith that local hospitals will do the right thing for their community,” Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said. “Anything that they terminate, the whole community is going to know about it and it’s not going to be in their best interest not to make the decision transparent.”