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Sharon Hospital critical to the region’s resources

For anyone trying to follow the progression of ownership at Sharon Hospital over recent years, take a deep breath. Another transition has been underway for a while, with the merger of Health Quest, owner of Sharon Hospital, and the Western Connecticut Health Network happening in April after about a year of planning and regulatory navigation. The new ownership entity is Nuvance Health, and it remains nonprofit, as was Health Quest, unlike the previous ownership, the for-profit Essent Healthcare (which had  been taken over by also for-profit RegionalCare Hospital Partners in 2011.) RegionalCare/Essent sold Sharon Hospital to Health Quest in 2016, when the hospital reverted after more than a decade of being for-profit back to nonprofit status. To make things more confusing for the lay person, Sharon Hospital’s promotional materials still refer to Health Quest as its ownership, with no real clarity on the Nuvance role.

And that is just scratching the surface. Because with each transition, Sharon Hospital staff, administration, physicians and patients have had to adjust to new systems, whether for billing, departmental structures, services, you name it. For rural hospitals across the country, there are many challenges, economic, professional and medical, that are just too much for some that end up closing their doors. This area has been fortunate that so far Sharon Hospital has remained a viable option for at least some kinds of health care, a critical need for any region, but especially critical for rural areas where more intensive or specialized care is geographically remote. 

Yet for anyone who has used the hospital for different kinds of care, from emergency to maternity to maintenance or preventive care, during that time, the entity it has been transformed into through the monumental growth of its ownership may seem foreign. There are still people alive, physicians, nurses, and patients alike, who remember Sharon Hospital as the country health care resource with personal attention and many familiar faces. While it still may be that as compared to urban care centers, its new merged system has projected annual revenue of $2.4 billion, seven hospitals, more than 2,600 physicians and 12,000 employees.     

There are other hospitals in the area, including Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington and Fairview in Great Barrington, as well as those further city hospitals in both New York and Connecticut, but depending on where in the Northwest Corner one resides, these may not seem like good alternatives for emergency or maternity care. 

This is why it’s so important for the community to remain engaged in the oversight of available services at Sharon Hospital as plans for change under Nuvance are analyzed and implemented over the next five years. An open public meeting organized by the grassroots group Save Sharon Hospital will be Thursday, June 27, at the Sharon Town Hall at 4 p.m. There will be representatives from the state Office of Health  Strategies there providing information on health policy. There will not be a forum for testimony, but questions may be answered. Any time sessions like this one, and those required by the Certificate of Need for Nuvance to hold for the public, take place, anyone with a need for reliable and accessible health care (so any of us at any given time) should attend. 

Being an educated consumer of medical care is one of the more important tasks for any citizen. Keep track of what is going on at Sharon Hospital, so when an urgent need arises, there will be more likelihood of a good outcome.