A coalition that has expressed concern about the merger of Waterbury's two hospitals with LHP Hospital Group has produced an analysis claiming the merger could lead to a significant loss of jobs and limit access to emergency room care, particularly for the uninsured and under-insured.
The chief executives at both hospitals responded by calling the report "one man's opinion" and by noting that virtually all of the issues and questions it raises already have been answered by the partners in the proposed joint venture.
Dr. Fred Hyde, a clinical professor of health policy and management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and a former CEO of Windham Hospital in Willimantic, wrote the study.
Community United for Jobs, Healthcare & Opportunity, a labor and community group, commissioned the report. The group includes District 1199 of the New England Healthcare Employees Union, the Western Connecticut Central Labor Council, and a number of health care advocacy groups, local churches and neighborhood and women's organizations.
Brenda Morisette, Community United's co-chairwoman, said the study was commissioned to produce an independent, unbiased opinion of the proposed merger.
"What both hospitals are saying is to their advantage, and as you know Community United has a lot of questions, and nobody has really answered those questions because LHP wouldn't meet with the community," she said. "So we thought we needed another voice to look at what had been proposed."
LHP has said repeatedly that it will not meet with community groups until it has a complete agreement in place.
Hyde's 67-page report claims the merger of Saint Mary's and Waterbury hospitals and their conversion into a for-profit, tax-paying entity could indirectly "lead to the loss of up to 1,000 jobs" in Greater Waterbury, which would result in "$50 million in lost purchasing power each year in the ... community."
The two hospitals intend to build a $400 million, state-of-the-art medical center that would replace both existing facilities.
Hyde's 1,000-job figure was reached by using studies conducted by the Connecticut Hospital Association, among others, estimating that every hospital job helps create one to four additional jobs in a community.
"In other words," Hyde wrote, "the layoff of 200 employees at Saint Mary's would produce something approximating a loss of 1,000 jobs in the Waterbury community."
Saint Mary's executives have not given any job loss estimates and say they hope to accomplish any reduction in force through attrition as much as possible. The Hyde report does not attempt to predict how many jobs would be lost at the two hospitals as a direct result of the merger.
Hyde also wrote "there is no evidence that a combined Waterbury and Saint Mary's would be more profitable than Saint Mary's currently is, without large-scale layoffs."
Chad Wable, president and CEO of Saint Mary's, and Darlene Stromstad, his counterpart at Waterbury Hospital, reiterated Friday that the two hospitals can't continue to survive as separate and competing entities in the Greater Waterbury market, and that any attempt to do so would bring about greater job reductions than the proposed merger is likely to produce.
"There will be far greater job losses in this community if these two organizations do not come together," Stromstad said.
Wable said he is "absolutely convinced" that the future of health care in Greater Waterbury "has both hospitals working together" as a single entity under the same umbrella.
"If you look at anything else, if you look at any other scenario, you're talking about huge reductions in health-care quality for the area and a tremendous number of jobs being lost," he said.
Both hospitals have admitted that some job reductions are likely in the wake of the merger. Waterbury Hospital currently employs 1,650 people in the equivalent of 1,164 full-time jobs. Saint Mary's employs 1,800 in the equivalent of 1,200 full-time jobs.
Hyde's report cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows nonprofit hospitals across the nation averaged 291 emergency room visits per year per 1,000 population, while for-profit hospitals averaged 55 visits per year per 1,000 people, or about 20 percent of those at their nonprofit counterparts.