SOUTHINGTON — Hartford HealthCare officials faced a barrage of criticism, heckling and booing Monday night at a community meeting on plans to move the emergency room at Bradley Memorial campus.
Three hospital officials, including Lucille Janatka, CEO of the Hospital of Central Connecticut, which includes the Bradley campus, took questions from the audience of more than 100 at Derynoski School.
Speakers began with questions about Bradley’s future, but as the evening went on they began to address the crowd about the need for a local hospital. With Hartford HealthCare officials were mostly silent, sitting on metal folding chairs onstage, the meeting took on the appearance of a rally against changes at Bradley.
Hartford HealthCare owns the Hospital of Central Connecticut along with several other Connecticut hospitals. The latest plans for Bradley included eliminating the inpatient unit and moving the emergency department.
Trish Walden, vice president of Central Connecticut Senior Health Services ,which is owned by Hartford HealthCare, said the company was hitting the “pause button” on planned changes after residents came out a Town Council meeting last week to oppose the emergency department’s move.
“We are in agreement that we need to begin this conversation with an apology,” Walden said. “We did not do a very good job of communicating the vision that Hartford HealthCare has of serving the needs of Southington.”
She said the Bradley campus was a “key component” of the town’s health care delivery system.
“This is not the death of Bradley. This is the rebirth of Bradley,” Walden said. “The vision is to provide something newer, larger and better than we have today.”
In response to questions about what was planned for the Bradley campus, James Blazar, Hartford HealthCare’s chief strategy and transformation officer, said a strategic plan for the company’s central region was being formed.
“There are no other plans to make any other changes until we develop the strategic plan,” he said.
Speakers criticized hospital officials for removing services such as the operating room and for giving few specifics about Bradley’s future.
“You were vague,” said Dick Fortunato, a town resident. “You were not able to give us a one-word picture of what you plan to do there.”
Cheryl Lounsbury, a town councilor, said she’d lost faith in Hartford HealthCare officials, calling their words a “smokescreen.” She cited a meeting last year where health care officials said the emergency room would not close.
“Actions speak louder than words, and your actions have consistently contradicted your words,” Lounsbury said. “What you said is very hard to believe.”
Hartford HealthCare formed a community advisory committee to consider changes at the hospital. Lounsbury said the committee, made up of town councilors, doctors and community leaders, wasn’t balanced.
“You handpicked the committee,” she said.
The committee’s next meeting is on Friday. Walden said the meeting won’t be open to the public, but anything decided will be communicated to the public.
“We want this to be meaningful and not just a free-for-all,” she said.
State approval is required to close the inpatient unit and the emergency room. Hospital officials agreed to not submit a request for approval until the committee has had time to discuss Bradley’s future.
Bonnie Sica, a resident who has been gathering petitions to oppose state approval of the plan, asked Janatka whether the request had been withdrawn or postponed.
Janatka said nothing had been submitted yet and there was nothing to withdraw.
Sica questioned whether new emergency room employees would be union, as are the current hospital employees, and whether moving the emergency room was a plan to break up the union.
“Those discussions will go on at the time when they need to,” Janatka said.
Sica also asked if the new emergency room would be owned by another company and leased back to the hospital.
“Those decisions haven’t been made,”Janatka said.
Rosemary Champagne has also been collecting signatures for the petition and was outside before the meeting with Sica asking attendees to sign.
During the meeting, she talked about her experience with cancer and the need for a close, local hospital.
“How dare you take our hospital?” she said. “You come to this town and you think you can take it away. We’re fighting. There are 4,000 names on a petition. We will fight.”