In the battle for control of Winsted (Conn.) Memorial Hospital, everyone's a loser.
The financially troubled facility, licensed for 72 beds, is now officially closed by a judge's order after a protracted and celebrity-filled struggle over its future.
Hospital board members didn't win. The board proposed ending inpatient services and rejiggering the mix of services to meet other patient-care needs.
Community activists, backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, didn't win either. They pressured the board to retain an emergency room and inpatient beds. It proved to be a deal-breaker in negotiations with area hospitals interested in striking a partnership.
They also trotted out talk-show host Phil Donahue to emcee a telethon. Community lawyer Charlene LaVoie said the two-hour event generated $250,000 of the $600,000 war chest raised to date.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also intervened on the community's behalf, challenging the board's decision to end acute-care services. Blumenthal asked a Litchfield (Conn.) Superior Court judge to appoint a receiver to review the hospital's financial status and add community members to the board.
But Blumenthal failed to save Winsted. The court-appointed receiver, E. Cortright Phillips, recommended shuttering the hospital and filing for bankruptcy.
On Oct. 25, Superior Court Judge Richard A. Walsh authorized the hospital to terminate all patient-care services and to file for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Walsh called Winsted's financial position "nothing less than desperate." Board Chairman Herbert Isaacson said a bankruptcy filing, probably a Chapter 7 liquidation, would be filed within "a week to 10 days."
What's sad, Isaacson said, is that more than 200 hospital employees lost their jobs. Under the board's conversion plan, 50 to 60 employees would have been laid off, he said.
In a statement, Blumenthal said, "I am very disappointed that the court will close this hospital rather than seek to save it through the one group with the will and wherewithal to achieve its rescue." That group, in his estimation, was the Community Trust for Winsted Hospital, which was dedicated to preserving Winsted as a full-service facility.
But after hearing testimony from Richard T. Michaelson, the trust's board president, Walsh said Blumenthal "failed to prove that Community Trust has the business acumen necessary to carry out the enormously complex task of administering (Winsted)*.*.*.*and the money which would be needed, even minimally, to save the hospital."
Tiny Winsted Memorial had been hemorrhaging $250,000 a month (Sept. 2, p. 22).
Community lawyer LaVoie said the judge acted without having all the facts and faulted Blumenthal for failing to call witnesses who were prepared to explain the plan of action to preserve and improve the hospital. "He wasn't up to the task of helping this community save its hospital," LaVoie charged, adding that the community may pursue litigation over the matter.
At this point, "it doesn't make sense not to go into bankruptcy," Isaacson said. The Nader-backed group was "very well organized and succeeded in convincing the public that somehow there was a future for inpatient care," he said. "By doing that, they made it impossible to provide anything less than that."