Connecticut community hospitals face a rocky future

Hospital entance

Smaller community hospitals may face an uncertain future, with more patients seeking care at larger facilities and funding pools shrinking.

Hospital officials in Connecticut report a similar trend, according to an article from The Connecticut Mirror. State officials are planning to ax a pool of nearly $12 million in state and federal funding that helps keep the lights on at five small hospitals in the state: Bristol Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, Day Kimball Healthcare, Griffin Hospital and Milford Hospital. The state has traditionally financially supported smaller, independent hospitals, but the funding is on the chopping block as it faces a significant budget deficit.

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Some of these hospitals are looking to join larger systems to stay afloat, according to the article, but Griffin Hospital, for instance, wants to maintain its independence. The problem, however, is that it needs the industry’s transition away from a fee-for-service model to accelerate so that it can reap the potential, and much-needed, financial rewards. Patrick Charmel, the hospital’s CEO, estimates it could be three to five years before the model is developed enough to meet those needs, but his hospital may not survive financially that long.

“You’ve got to stay alive long enough to make it to the end, where you’re rewarded for all those things,” he said.

This scenario is playing out across the country. Last year, the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission released a report (PDF) that used the state’s community hospitals as a microcosm of problems plaguing such facilities throughout the U.S. Patients are increasingly seeking care at large hospitals, the report found, in part because ongoing consolidation in the industry has led to shrinking provider networks but also because they perceive care at a big-name facility to be better.

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The report suggests that community hospitals become “community health systems,” where they would begin to shift some inpatient offerings to outpatient procedures and align closely with other community health groups to address unmet needs.

Some in Connecticut have suggested that the most dire solution may be the best one. Bristol Hospital CEO Kurt Barwis said that some have simply called for community hospitals to be shuttered, but he told The Mirror that the financial costs to the state are clear. “If you close all the low-cost hospitals, you can easily just do the math,” he said.