Nurses, physicians and legislators — frustrated at the length of time the state has taken to approve the acquisition of three Connecticut hospitals by Yale New Haven Health — rallied at the state Capitol Monday in an effort to expedite the deal.
YNHH wants to purchase Waterbury, Manchester Memorial, and Rockville General hospitals — a move lawmakers and hospital executives said is crucial to the hospitals’ survival. The heads of Waterbury Hospital and Eastern Connecticut Health Network, which includes Manchester Memorial and Rockville General, have told legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont that their financial situation is dire, that vendors and physicians under contract are owed money, and that if the deal with Yale falls through, the hospitals may not remain financially viable.
The hospitals are currently owned by Prospect Medical Holdings, which purchased them in 2016. YNHH moved to buy the hospitals in 2022.
“I never would have thought in my life that I would come across a situation like this. Patients in the office will say, ‘Dr. Gandhi, I heard that Rockville is [going to] close. I heard that Manchester hospital is closed. I never thought I would hear that,” said Dr. Dushyant Gandhi, a cardiologist and president of the medical staff at ECHN.
“Cardiologists, general surgeons, vascular surgeons are making phone calls — they are not getting paid for their services, including myself. And we are not talking about only delayed or delinquent payments. In some situations, [it’s] no payment,” he said. “I never thought that would happen in the field of medicine. I always have enjoyed the honor of taking care of patients. But when a colleague says, ‘I probably will not take calls … and the reason is nonpayment,’ that is not acceptable. I believe the situation is deteriorating fast. We are in a dire situation. We need to be resuscitated.”
Anne-Marie Cerra, a registered nurse at Manchester Memorial and president of the Manchester Hospital Nurses Union, urged state officials to speed up their approval of the sale.
“Just because Prospect [Medical] has put us in a chokehold every single day, I still see nurses and doctors do their absolute very best for patient safety and great outcomes. I don’t want this to be forgotten, even though we’re struggling right now to stay viable,” she said. “The fact that I have to be here today and beg that it stays open … it’s just bewildering to me.
“All of my life has been spent taking care of patients and I can’t even imagine if [the hospital] closes. It will be an injustice that profit comes before patients, that the state can’t get behind the deal to Yale New Haven Health. It’s what we need.”
Tina Kumar Hyde, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Health Strategy, which is overseeing the ‘certificate of need’ process and weighing approval of the sale, said it is not unusual for a “complex” hospital acquisition like this one to take a year or longer.
“In this matter, there are three hospitals involved in this transaction (Manchester Memorial Hospital, Rockville General Hospital and Waterbury Hospital), while most other transactions in the past have only involved one hospital,” she said. “Additionally, unlike many other hospital acquisition applications, there is a sister application for the transfer of ownership of a medical group. OHS has needed to consider that application both individually and as it relates to the hospital application.
“Despite all these factors, OHS’ process for this application is still well within the statutory guidelines. … OHS understands the concerns expressed by affected citizens and is processing the various components as quickly as possible.”
The state recently insisted that all parties sign a confidentiality agreement barring them from discussing the status of talks on the sale.
A spokesperson for Lamont could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
“Today’s rally was neither coordinated nor sanctioned by ECHN’s or Waterbury Hospital’s leadership or Prospect Medical. However, we understand that some members of our medical staff and other employees felt compelled to participate in this event due to its relevance to the hospitals’ future,” Prospect Medical officials said in a statement. “While we respect the rights of our employees to engage in civic activities, patient care remains our utmost priority. We continued to provide quality, compassionate care to our patients today, as we do every day.”
Sources have told the Connecticut Mirror that YNHH officials are seeking $16 million per year over five years, or $80 million total, from the state to help with recovery efforts from a recent cyberattack across the three Prospect-owned hospitals, to update computer systems and to address “deteriorating” conditions at the facilities. YNHH has also asked Prospect Medical to adjust the previously agreed upon purchase price of $435 million.
In the meantime, the hospitals are struggling. In a meeting with about 30 legislators in September, ECHN and Waterbury Hospital executives said they are behind on paying bills and, if the deal with YNHH is not approved, the facilities may not remain financially viable or functional, according to people in attendance.
The executives have said they owe millions to vendors and physicians contracted to provide care at the hospitals.
ECHN alone owes $42 million in taxes to the state, $5.18 million to physicians, and $5.9 million to local vendors, sources have said.
Yale New Haven Health officials are concerned about the software at the Prospect-owned hospitals following a cyberattack, which began in early August and lasted for nearly six weeks. At the meeting with legislators, the computer system used by the hospitals was described as outdated.
On Monday, lawmakers said the longer the deal awaits approval, the more that services are at risk.
Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a co-chair of the Public Health Committee and a physician under contract at Manchester Memorial, said contracts with traveling nurses and technicians are in jeopardy and remain in place only on a “week-to-week” basis.
“There’s a chance that if the money is not paid, some of the nurses and staff who are providing travel services would go away,” he said. “That’s a problem. Whatever services they provide would have to be decreased.”
Anwar said surgeries at some of the facilities have been postponed because of issues obtaining anesthesia services.
“Things are very, very limited and difficult, and literally people are making decisions on a single day [basis] at times,” he said. “It’s almost to the point that it’s at the brink and suddenly things [can] fall to the point of being unsafe.”
Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, called the situation “untenable” and the state’s approval process “never-ending.”
“It’s been extremely frustrating,” he said. “The only thing that should be a play in the [Certificate of Need] process is what is in the public interest, what is in the interest of delivering health care. … We’ve suffered as this process has went on for far too long.
“Private equity has no place in the health care business. The sooner we can get this transaction done and the sooner we can get Prospect Medical out of the state, the better. The alternative is, frankly, something I don’t even want to think about.”
Rep. Kevin Brown, D-Vernon, asked state officials to “treat this [sale] as the emergency that it is.”
“I can’t imagine where we will be if any of these hospitals were to close,” he said. “Those communities need them. My community needs Rockville General Hospital. We need to prioritize this.”