Preparation for a rally in favor of access to safe birthing in rural Connecticut communities. Save Sharon Hospital

This story has been updated.

The Office of Health Strategy issued an initial denial of Nuvance Health’s application to shutter the labor and delivery unit at Sharon Hospital, according to a proposed final decision published Monday.

The draft decision stated that, among other points, Nuvance failed to prove that the proposal would not negatively impact patient choice and the diversity of health care providers in the region. 

“It’s concerning that OHS’s proposed final decision disregards declining births, recruitment challenges, and financial pressures that pose significant challenges to maintaining birthing services,” said the Connecticut Hospital Association in a statement released on Wednesday. “Closing a birthing unit is not a decision that is made lightly.” 

The state process now gives Nuvance Health 21 days to appeal and request an oral argument. At that point, the application would appear before the executive director or deputy director of OHS, who then would have the final say to uphold, reverse or modify the decision within 90 days of oral arguments. In the past, there have been proposed decisions that have been modified as well as reversed.

A spokesperson with Nuvance Health did not immediately return a request for comment.

In addition to the proposed closure of labor and delivery, Nuvance Health also has an application in process to replace the intensive care unit at Sharon with what’s known as a progressive care unit, which doesn’t handle the same complexity of care.

The proposed final decision issued this week doesn’t necessarily mean that a final decision is imminent.

Sharon Hospital is one of three rural hospitals in the state seeking permission to shutter its labor and delivery units, along with Hartford HealthCare-owned Windham Hospital and Trinity Health of New England-owned Johnson Memorial in Stafford. 

Windham Hospital is furthest along in its application process. Hartford HealthCare applied to close the hospital’s labor and delivery unit in September 2020. The state issued a proposed denial of the closure in July 2022, which Hartford HealthCare appealed the following month. The hospital system presented oral arguments on November 30, 2022. The state has yet to issue a final decision.

“The application requires a thorough and thoughtful review and analysis of all available data. While we always try to work expeditiously to render a timely decision, our priority is to make the right decision for the residents of Connecticut. We are working diligently to complete the process as soon as possible,” stated OHS executive director Deidre Gifford in July 2023. 

At the time, a spokesperson for OHS added that the agency is “in discussions with Windham Hospital to reach an agreement on the matter” and that both parties agreed to the extension.

“Windham Hospital continues to await a response from the Office of Health Strategy. The hospital remains committed to providing high-quality, coordinated care for mothers and their babies at a hospital of the mother’s choice; and we have enhanced pre- and post-partum care at Windham Hospital and in the region,” stated a Hartford HealthCare spokesperson.

Johnson Memorial applied to close its labor and delivery unit in September 2022. OHS held a public hearing for that process in July 2023, but has yet to issue a proposed final decision. 

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.