Windham United to Save Our Healthcare and others held a flashlight vigil to protest the closing of the Windham Hospital maternity unit.

Our 2023 Connecticut Legislature has been given the task of considering recommendations and bills impacting who will live and who will die in the coming year.

We were one ten states nationally chosen in December 2021 to participate in a collaboration between the Office of Health Strategy (OHS) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) in the Strategies to Repair Equity and Transform Community Health Initiative (STRETCH).

Brenda Buchbinder

The STRETCH initiative included a “Health Enhancement Community” of  more than 225 community members, more than 50 groups, consultants, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and Michigan Public Health Initiative (MPHI).  

This one year initiative worked valiantly to address social determinants of health (SDOH), and put forth “upstream interventions” to build healthier communities, address health inequities, and lend overall support of our state’s public health mission.

What is Connecticut’s public health mission? How does this vision line up with competing health care corporations and their closings and consolidations? How can communities see through the sweet talking phase of promises to enhance services and keep them close to home?   

The honeymoon between a community and its rescuing health care entity ends abruptly, and hospital boards are no longer local. The new reality of tearing down decades of local and safe services brings broken promises and betrayal. Health equity is for whom?  

When the determinants are corporate standing and mission and not the community’s public health one, those in more affluent communities are more likely to survive. Those in more vulnerable and diverse communities will continue to see hardship and suffering and risk. 

How far will we go this year in legislating needed repairs to all who need it? Can we STRETCH our protections across the state? Windham Hospital, Sharon Hospital, Johnson Memorial Hospital and Day Kimball Hospital are calling out to you for life saving measures to stop the closures and the health inequities, risk and suffering, and fatalities.

Our current reality includes the loss of almost all of our community hospitals. Corporate outsourcing of ICUs, maternity units, reproductive health choices, and core services away from poorer and more vulnerable communities have created health care deserts where arduous journeys down winding back roads may not save lives. 

Depending on where you live, if you go into medical and or behavioral health crisis, you may make it, or not.

Are we in time or too late? Connecticut communities on their way to remaining health care deserts are calling out for health care justice and equity with grassroots petitions, letters, articles and testimonies: The community voices of Windham, Sharon, Johnson Memorial and Day Kimball Hospitals are speaking out and fighting for equitable and accessible healthcare, local and safe.

Bright minds and their innovative ideas have been passed to our state legislature to be brought to bills and then voted upon. This January, the Certificate of Need Task Forces submitted months of creative work to restore health equity in addition to the STRETCH Initiative.

Our public health mission awaits laws that will save our lives and our communities. We urge them to network and leverage and use federal, national and state resources to reverse the health deserts in vulnerable communities. Members of the Connecticut Legislature 2023, our time for health equity is now.

Brenda Buchbinder LCSW is a member of the CON Task Force/Windham United to Save Our Healthcare/Willimantic.