Windham Hospital’s maternity ward faces permanent closure

November 10, 2021 GMT

Hartford HealthCare is seeking to permanently close the decades-old maternity ward at Windham Hospital, arguing Wednesday the small number of deliveries has led to significant challenges in attracting obstetricians and other clinicians, potentially putting pregnant moms and their babies at risk.

The health network discontinued childbirth services in July 2020 at the Windham Hospital Birthing Center, coordinating expectant mothers’ deliveries at other hospitals. It is now seeking approval from the state’s Office of Health Strategy to officially close obstetrics, labor and delivery service.

“The proposal at its core is about patient safety. It’s about a need to close a labor and delivery service that can no longer be operated in a safe or consistent manner,” said Jennifer Fusco, an attorney for Hartford HealthCare, during a public hearing on Wednesday. “And it’s about ensuring that the women in the Windham area have access to the highest quality obstetric care in the right environment, even if it means they can no longer deliver at Windham Hospital.”


The closure has been controversial in Windham, a northeastern Connecticut community with a large Hispanic and Black population and where a local group called Windham United to Save Our Healthcare and others have demanded that the maternity ward be reopened. The Windham and Mansfield town councils have also issued statements of concern about Hartford HealthCare’s plans.

“(The) Windham area has more high-risk maternity patients than the state average and we are already in a medically under-served area,” read a resolution passed by the Windham Town Council last year. “Many Windham area families do not have access to reliable transportation to get to and from Hartford or Norwich – exposing women in labor to more expensive ambulance rides and keeping families from accompanying them.”

According to the town council’s resolution, a permanent closure of the maternity ward means “low-income, uninsured and women of color will be unfairly exposed to risk.”

“To me, this seems like this was a systemic discrimination move to break a small city, because of our Latino population that we have here and our low income people that we have here,” said Rodney Alexander, a newly elected member of the Windham Town Council. “How can we expect young families to move here, reside and raise a family and there’s no OB-GYN?”

Dr. David Kalla, the eastern region’s medical director of women’s health services for Hartford Healthcare and a practicing OB-GYN in Norwich, said the number of deliveries at Windham Hospital declined from 376 births in 2014 to 68 through May of fiscal year of 2020, marking the lowest number of births at any hospital in the state.


“The declining birth trend at Windham has negatively impacted the hospital’s ability to recruit obstetricians, to work at the hospital and to recruit private practice groups in the area,” Kalla said. He also noted how the hospital’s maternity staff had less experience with problematic deliveries compared to busier hospitals like Backus Hospital, located about 26 miles away in Norwich, and how physicians were required to be on-call more often because of Windham’s staffing challenges.

Donna Handley, president of Hartford Healthcare’s eastern region, which includes Windham and Backus hospitals, said there’s been a lot of misinformation in the community about the future of women’s health services in the region for underserved populations and the future of Windham Hospital itself, including claims that a “health care desert” is being created.

“This could not be farther from the truth,” Handley said, noting Windham will continue to provide prenatal and post-partum services to women, and how nine new providers from various specialties have been added in the past 18 months.

Following Wednesday’s hearing, members of the public will have seven calendar days to submit additional written comments to the Office of Health Strategy. Once those comments and any late filings are reviewed by a staff attorney, the office has 60-90 days to issue a decision. However, the process could take longer.

The first birth at Windham Hospital, originally known as Windham community Memorial Hospital, occurred on April 23, 1933.