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Waterbury hospital on life support

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WATERBURY – Despite facing a $10 million deficit next year, there was hope inside the 104 year old Waterbury Hospital building on Robbins Street. But, regulatory red tape now has the hospital on life support.

The Connecticut Attorney General’s office and the state Department of Public Health’s Office of Health Care Access approved the sale of five Connecticut hospitals, including Waterbury Hospital, to the Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Dallas, which owns 80 hospitals across the U.S. But, OHCA mandated Tenet meet 47 conditions, including 21 related to its finances. Tenet decided against finalizing the deal, which Waterbury Hospital administrators had been working on for two years.

“In the short order, in a couple of years,  this organization (Waterbury Hospital) could be at great risk,” said hospital CEO Darlene Stromstad. “We’ll whatever we can to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

The deal called for Tenet to give Waterbury Hospital $45 million to pay off its debts. Then, the hospital was to receive $55 million, over the course of several years, for capital improvements to the physical plant, including equipment.

“The potential for layoffs exists, as does the curtailing of certain services,” said Stromstad, who added that nothing would happen prior to Christmas.

But, Stromstad, who has been CEO for just over three years, would not forecast how many permanent layoffs would be necessary.

Capture“What we’ve done right now is to freeze all open positions so that we are not bringing people into the organization at a time when we’re also going to send people out,” said Stromstad.

In search of a more viable future, Waterbury Hospital has instructed its investment banker to cast a wide net in search of another potential suitor. But Stromstad says the terms set forth by state regulators, which include 70 conditions, will likely limit interest.

There’s one she views as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

“No changes could be made in services or hours of services for 5 to 7 years,” she said.

From equipment that’s more than 20 years old to paint and wallpaper that hasn’t been freshened up in three decades, employees know now they’ll just have to make do. But, a reduction in staffing could cripple the hospital’s emergency room, which sees roughly 50,000 patients annually in an ER designed to handle only 35,000 visits. And, because Waterbury doesn’t have a community mental health center, the community relies on Waterbury Hospital for these services.

“At any point in time, we could have between 10 and 30 clients coming in here, with a range of mental health needs,” said Laura Nesta, the Director of Waterbury Hospital’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services.

And, with layoffs in the offing, that means potentially fewer social workers.

“I worry about our ability to rapidly assess and triage and take care of those patients,” said Nesta.

Gayle Carusillo, who was born at Waterbury Hospital and has been a nurse there since 1971, says she was devastated to learn the news of Tenet pulling out.

“I felt that we had a better life ahead of us,” she said.

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