Preparation for an October rally in favor of access to safe birthing in rural Connecticut communities.

A measure included in this year’s state budget bill seeks to stop hospital service cuts that advocates say circumvent state law.

In March 2020, Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order temporarily allowing hospitals to suspend services without going through the formal state approval process. The order was meant to allow hospitals to respond to the crushing demands of COVID. 

That month, Prospect Medical Holdings, the parent company of Rockville Hospital, notified the state that it would suspend surgical services to free up more beds to treat COVID patients. The following month, Johnson Memorial did the same with its labor and delivery services, among others.

In May 2021, Lamont terminated the COVID waiver. At that point, any hospital that suspended services under it should have resumed them. But neither Rockville nor Johnson Memorial did, and the services remain either partially or fully suspended to this day.

Neither company has applied for a certificate of need, which grants state approval of the closures, insisting that they are merely “suspensions” and that they have no intention to permanently close the units. 

The 673-page budget bill contains two lines that define the “termination of services” at a hospital as “the cessation of services for over 180 days,” directly addressing long-term suspensions that were previously difficult for the state to control.

“[Hospitals] were terminating services under a suspension,” explained Representative Kerry Wood, D-Newington, during House debate of the bill. “This clearly defines what a termination is. So now if [a unit] is closed for 180 days or more, you would have to go for a certificate of need.” 

The budget bill passed the House early Tuesday morning. The Senate is expected to take it up later Tuesday.

In November 2021, Prospect requested an extension of the waiver to continue with the surgical suspension. The Office of Health Strategy denied it, instructing the hospital to either file a certificate of need or resume services. The company did neither, and OHS issued a $118,000 fine. The company is appealing the fine.

According to public documents, the company resumed “certain services” in February 2022, meaning that Rockville Hospital operated for nearly two years without surgical services. 

As for Trinity Health, the company sent a letter to OHS last November explaining that staffing challenges are preventing the reopening of labor and delivery at Johnson Memorial. Despite the hospital operating without birthing services for nearly two years, Trinity insisted that it does not plan to close the unit permanently, so it would not be pursuing a certificate of need.

The Office of Health Strategy opened an investigation into the suspension of labor and delivery at Johnson Memorial, which is now underway.

A spokesperson from Trinity Health stated that the company supports the legislature’s effort “towards clarification regarding the certificate of need process.” Prospect did not respond to request for comment.

Update: This story was updated to include comments from Trinity Health of New England.

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Katy Golvala is a member of our three-person investigative team. Originally from New Jersey, Katy earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Mathematics from Williams College and received a master’s degree in Business and Economic Journalism from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in August 2021. Her work experience includes roles as a Business Analyst at A.T. Kearney, a Reporter and Researcher at Investment Wires, and a Reporter at Inframation, covering infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean.