“We wanted to be sure that the Office of HealthCare Access hears from these residents,” said Heidi Kolle, a patient access services associate in Windham Hospital’s Emergency Room Registration/Admitting with 25 years of experience at the facility. “As caregivers, our job is not just to treat those who are ill and make sure they heal. It’s also to make sure our healthcare institutions put patients before profits,” said Kolle, who also serves as the president of Windham Community Memorial Hospital (WCMH) Employees United, AFT Local 5099.
Kolle’s comments refer to objections over excessive compensation packages for Hartford HealthCare executives raised at two recent community forums in Willimantic on the future of the facility. Patients, family members, physicians, hospital staff, elected and civic leaders at both events roundly criticized the millions in bonuses and incentives being handed to the non-profit network’s top administrators. The Journal-Inquirer of Manchester in July reported bonuses given to 18 HHC executives that were nearly four times the average annual salary reported for nursing assistants in the region.
“You cannot simply take the word of Hartford HealthCare as plain fact,” state Sen. Mae Flexer (D-29) said shortly before the delivery of the petition cards. “We need to make sure the Office of Healthcare Access has a public hearing to get to the bottom of what these changes in services are going to mean for our community,” said Flexer, whose district includes towns in Windham Hospital’s service area.
Teaming up with Sen. Flexer at yesterday’s event were three additional area legislators, all of whom were among the community leaders to appeal OCHA’s preliminary approval of facility service changes. The agency responded earlier this month to the coalition’s request to investigate further the conversion of Windham Hospital’s Critical Care Unit (CCU) by directing management to address numerous specific concerns. State Reps. Linda Orange (D-48), Susan Johnson (D-49) and Greg Haddad (D-54) joined Sen. Flexer in urging OCHA to also conduct a certificate of need (CON) public hearing on the proposal.
“Before Hartford HealthCare, our CEO [chief executive officer] would always be there to hear what the medical staff has to say,” said Dr. Nelson Walker, MD, a member of the facility’s Division of Medicine which in July voted unanimously against the proposed change to the CCU. “Yet none of these decisions have involved the medical staff at all,” said Walker, who also works as an independent physician at Mansfield Family Practice.
Dr. Walker was among scores of medical professionals and caregivers at the facility who spoke in August and again last month at the forums organized by state and local elected officials. At both events speaker after speaker denounced Hartford HealthCare and local hospital management for failing to engage stakeholders in decisions impacting healthcare services, quality of care and community access.
Also speaking before yesterday’s petition delivery was Lynne Ide, the program and policy director for the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut (UHCFC) and chair of Windham’s Board of Finance. Hector Gonzalez, the Eastern Connecticut Area Health Education Center’s (AHEC) language services coordinator, also spoke before coalition members each hand-delivered to DPH’s representative stacks containing hundreds of cards.