Protesters at a rally opposing Covenant Health system's proposed acquisition of Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam on September 24, 2022. Courtesy of SaveDKH

Sixteen Democratic state legislators have filed a letter opposing Massachusetts-based Covenant Health’s proposed acquisition of Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, citing concerns the Catholic system would force Day Kimball to eliminate an array of reproductive health and other services.

The legislators, who represent various parts of the state including Windham, the Hartford area and parts of Fairfield and Litchfield counties, pointed out that the merger with Covenant would place Day Kimball hospital — along with its associated health centers, home care and hospice groups — under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The rules, known as ERDs, limit services related to reproductive health, emergency contraception, fertility, gender-affirming, end-of-life and other care.

“This will significantly impact the quality of and access to care for women throughout Northeast Connecticut,” the letter stated. “We strongly encourage [the Office of Health Strategy] to deny this request.”

The letter was one of dozens of public comments filed with OHS, which has been reviewing the proposed deal since April. Officials have gone back and forth with Day Kimball seeking additional information, and hundreds of pages of documents have now been submitted to the state. On Nov. 17, OHS deemed the application complete.

A public hearing is imminent, according to the typical timeline OHS follows in these proceedings, known as “certificate of need” applications. An OHS spokeswoman said the hearing date has not yet been set.

Covenant Health and Day Kimball announced their agreement late last year and filed the certificate of need application to the state in April. Hospital leaders argued that the deal would provide financial stability for a struggling rural health care system, one of few health care providers in the rural northeast corner of the state. Day Kimball is one of a dwindling number of independent hospitals left in Connecticut, many of which have faced extreme financial challenges during the pandemic years.

In its response to Day Kimball’s application, OHS has twice sought additional information, including details regarding how Day Kimball would ensure access to services terminated as a result of adopting the ERDs. 

Representatives for Day Kimball and Covenant Health both said in emailed statements that they were pleased the certificate of need application was complete and looked forward to the next stages of the process, including the public hearing.

Several residents of the northeast region of the state have already submitted written comments supporting the deal. They express concerns that without Covenant’s takeover, the region would be left with limited health services — forcing people to drive longer distances on winding country roads to reach a doctor or hospital.

Amber Nadeau, an employee at Day Kimball, wrote to OHS that losing the hospital would hurt the community.

“If your decision is based on whether our community needs this hospital, we absolutely do. We need our hospital,” Nadeau wrote. “If this acquisition does not succeed, those of us that live in the 13 towns served by DKH would suffer the loss of vital services and staff at Day Kimball Hospital on which we all depend.”

“We are pleased by the positive public support we have had during this process,” Covenant spokeswoman Karen Sullivan wrote in an email. “Our goal is to preserve access to health care for the residents of the communities served by Day Kimball and we are excited that the completion of the application moves us one step closer to making this a reality.”

But many community members oppose the deal, arguing there are other ways for Day Kimball to achieve solvency that don’t require the hospital to merge with an out-of-state system. A local group of organizers has gathered more than 1,500 signatures on a petition opposing the merger. 

In one extensive filing, a health care consultant was called upon to provide analyses of both systems’ financial stability. The consultant, Fred Hyde, stated in his report that the merger wouldn’t necessarily solve either hospital’s financial problems, and eliminating health services specifically targeted to women such as reproductive services could further damage their viability.

“These ‘women’s health’ issues become ‘financial’ issues of import in the survival of a smaller hospital,” Hyde wrote. “This is because women make the great majority of the health decisions for a family, women frequently have obstetrician-gynecologists as their primary care providers, and, of course, childbirth and pediatric services constitute the beginning of family hospital affiliations for the next generation.”

Kyle Kramer, chief executive of Day Kimball Healthcare, wrote in an email, “Day Kimball Healthcare (DKH) is aware of comments questioning the necessity of our affiliation with Covenant Health, Inc., and we look forward to responding to all questions regarding the necessity of the DKH/Covenant affiliation in our testimony within the CON process.”

Erica covers economic development for CT Mirror. Before moving to Connecticut to join the staff she worked in Los Angeles for public radio’s Marketplace and, before that, for the Wall Street Journal's L.A. bureau. She grew up in Minneapolis, MN, graduated from Haverford College and earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California.