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Connecticut state office denies plan to permanently close maternity ward

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Hartford Healthcare said Wednesday it is reviewing its legal options after the state Office of Health Strategy this week denied the health system's application to permanently close the decades-old maternity ward at Windham Hospital.

Meanwhile, advocates who've fought the closure for the past two years called for obstetrics services to now be fully restored at the hospital, which is located in a community identified by the state as economically distressed.

"Hartford Healthcare made a callous and cynical decision. They were wrong to think it was okay to do more harm," said Lynne Ide, a member of the Windham United to Save our Healthcare coalition and the Universal Health Care Foundation, in a statement. "Now they must undo this mistake and listen to the community."

The health system, which discontinued childbirth services in July 2020 at the Windham Hospital Birthing Center, has argued that years of declining births have created significant challenges in attracting obstetricians and other clinicians, potentially putting pregnant moms and their babies at risk.

"We are deeply disappointed with the Office of Health Strategy's proposed finding, and especially its failure to take into account the quality and safety issues which were raised under oath by several regional and national clinician experts," Hartford Healthcare said in a written statement. "We are reviewing our legal options, which include the possibility of appealing."

Hartford Healthcare insists it has a plan for childbirth in the Windham area that "provides high-quality, coordinated care for mothers and their babies at a hospital of the mother's choice, including transportation." The Windham Hospital website says obstetricians at Backus Hospital in Norwich, another Hartford Healthcare facility located about a half hour away, "will provide care for you and will be delivering babies at Backus Hospital."

Attorney General William Tong praised the proposed final decision by the Office of Health Strategy, which was issued on Tuesday, saying it's the right decision for the health safety of mothers and babies in the Windham area.

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