Hospital merger talks falter in Waterbury when women’s advocates object to reproductive services plan

Merger talks between two Waterbury hospitals and a Texas company have reached an impasse over how to offer reproductive services for women.

All parties have pledged to continue meeting, but their previously quiet negotiations spilled into public view this week when the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women objected to the most recent reproductive services plan.

The overall proposal under discussion calls for Waterbury Hospital to join St. Mary’s Hospital in an acquisition and merger with a private Texas company called LHP Group.

The plan calls for building a new, state-of-the-art replacement hospital with 426 beds in private rooms.

On Thursday, presidents from Waterbury Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital sounded exhausted and a bit frustrated.

“We’ve been at this now for well over 15 months. Put together, it’s a long time to be working through some of the issues,” said Chad Wable, President and CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital.

The main stumbling block has been trying to provide reproductive services while respecting the ethical and religious directives of Catholic Health Services, which prohibit tubal ligations, vasectomies, contraceptive care and medically induced abortions. The joint venture had to be approved by the Vatican because the archdiocese owns St. Mary’s Hospital.

The merger sought to address that by putting reproductive services in a separate building called the Women’s Pavilion across the street from the hospital. The building would be separately licensed.

But the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women this week opposed the reproductive services plan, saying it is inadequate to serve the needs of the Waterbury area’s women.

In a press release, the women’s advocacy group said that “any state-of-the-art facility being built — especially with partial support from taxpayers’ dollars — should represent the needs of all the residents of the area, should treat all citizens equitably, regardless of gender, religion or socio-economic standing, and should have a far more definitive plan for future financial sustainability. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the dictates of the Ethical and Religious Directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will derail a much-needed facility.”

Teresa Younger, the commission’s executive director, said Thursday that the Women’s Pavilion does not serve all women, only the “very narrow population of those who have scheduled, low-risk Cesarean sections and wish to have a tubal ligation post-partum.”

“The whole purpose of us looking at this facility is to replace the services” that are now available, she said. Under the merger as proposed, “Women in Waterbury and their families are losing those services,” Younger said.

In addition, Younger said, the Women’s Pavilion proposal is not financially viable.

“They are assuming a certain level of C-sections and tubal ligations and a certain reimbursement rate. They need to be sustainable over the long term or else people won’t use them and they will have to close down,” Younger said. “We found that in their sixth year, even by the numbers they proposed to us, they would be losing money.”

Darlene Stromstead, President and CEO of Waterbury Hospital, said this is the seventh plan that all sides have come up with and said the process is very complicated.

“As the non-religious organization, we have been trying very hard to come up with solutions,” Stromstead said. “We have consulted the Permanent Status of Women, Merger Watch and others, trying to find something that will work and will address long-term sustainability, demonstrate medical quality and provide services in a non- discriminatory manner.”