No one could have predicted the COVID pandemic and the need for ICU beds. No one could have predicted the sudden closure of an 88-year-old maternity unit by a healthcare corporation during the early months of the pandemic. The two services, an ICU and a maternity unit — are critically linked at Windham Hospital in Willimantic Their loss has harmed our community to the core.
In 2015, Hartford Health Care held a community forum where medical staff and community members talked about the vital services of our ICU and the risks involved in closing it. They pleaded and told stories, expressed fears and hopes that someone in the parent corporation would heed the community. Our ICU was closed without a certificate of need process.
In June 2020, our 88-year-old maternity unit was closed in a virtual community forum announcement, before filing a certificate of need. Again, closure of vital services was made without listening to the fears and hopes of our community. A system of births at home, in the ED, on the side of the road, on ambulances and helicopters was sold as the caring, safe, right and best thing for our women. Maternal health videos by Hartford Healthcare talk about special needs of women of color, or poverty, mental health and addiction issues. They do not listen to the women of Windham who live those categories and health needs.
Willimantic is connected to no major highway. Century old Route 32 between Windham Hospital and the enhanced Backus Center for Healthy Birthing and NICU in Norwich is a road without shoulders, windy and hilly, prone to fatal accidents. Some of these accidents block the road, and detours use even more dangerous paths, and lose precious time for safe delivery. Route 6, also prone to accidents, connects to Manchester Hospital. It is a road known for traffic back-ups, sudden entries into the road, and long delays and collisions.
Windham United to Save Our Healthcare is our coalition of concerned citizens from all walks of life. We walk the streets in neighborhoods, go door to door and take the time to listen to our community stories, of generations of family births at Windham and hardship, and tears when they learn the maternity unit at Windham Hospital was closed. Listen, Hartford Health Care, and you will come to understand you made a corporate mistake and need to restore this cornerstone of safety and public trust to our community.
Listen and learn that our women did not choose to go else where. Our choices were terminated. Our drastic drops from 428 Births in 2010 to under a hundred in 2020 are due to corporate decisions, not personal choice. Our doctors left as malpractice costs soared without an ICU and support services. Windhan United to Save Our Healthcare Coalition is listening and standing together to say “Windham Community Memorial Hospital deserves to rise again. We are the community and we remember when our area, rural hospital was a cornerstone of care and trust. We reject the status of healthcare desert by corporate outsourcing.”
We will now ask the Office of Health Strategy on November 10 to listen to our testimonies at the Certificate of Need Hearing. This time our voices will be listened to and count.
Childbirth in Windham needs to be local and safe once again.
We ask the greater community of Connecticut to go to our Facebook page, Windham United to Save Our Healthcare to sign our online petition. Let us know you are listening too.
Brenda Buchbinder of Willimantic is a licensed social worker and member of Windham United to Save Our Healthcare.