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February 24, 2022

Rockville General faces $118K fine for not resuming surgeries

Photo | Journal Inquirer

The state has fined Rockville General Hospital’s operators more than $100,000 for its ongoing suspension of surgeries, a violation of state law if done without approval, and penalties will continue to accrue at a rate of $1,000 for each day the hospital remains non-compliant.

The hospital is operated by Eastern Connecticut Health Network and owned by the California-based, for-profit Prospect Medical Inc.

It was given a waiver to suspend surgeries on March 25, 2020, under Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order designed to make room for COVID-19 patients.

On Feb. 16, Kimberly Martone, deputy director and chief of staff for the Office of Health Strategy, wrote to ECHN Executive Director Deborah Weymouth, notifying her that the hospital is in violation of state law by not resuming surgeries.

As of that day, the state had already levied $118,000 in penalties — $1,000 per day dating back to Oct. 22, 2021, that Rockville Hospital remained in violation of state law.

ECHN-Prospect will continue to be fined an additional $1,000 per day until normal operations resume at the hospital, Martone said.

The companies have the right to request a hearing regarding the matter, which they have done, ECHN spokeswoman Nina Kruse said today.

She added that some procedures had resumed last week, but it is unclear whether those procedures meet the standard under state law.

Prospect sought an extension of the waiver related to surgical services and procedures at Rockville General on Nov. 22, 2021, according to a Jan. 24 letter from Martone. A subsequent executive order by the governor on May 20, 2021, however, had terminated OHS’s ability to waive those sections of state statutes, which meant that “all hospitals and facilities were again subject to all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements,” Martone wrote.

Rockville General Hospital “has failed to demonstrate such compliance,” she wrote, adding that Prospect sought an extension to at least Feb. 15, to resume normal operations, but OHS doesn’t have the authority to grant extensions.

Weymouth told the Journal Inquirer on Feb. 9 that the ongoing suspension was due primarily to a lack of physicians, but that Rockville Hospital would be resuming surgeries on a limited basis beginning Feb. 16, the day of Martone’s most recent letter to Weymouth.

OHS informed the hospital on Jan. 24 that a certificate of need is required to terminate services and that it could not end surgeries or any other services without approval in advance.

Weymouth responded the following day, once again asking that the waiver be extended.

In her request, Weymouth said that “OHS is demanding a heavy lift that (the Department of Public Health)/community need/reality of staffing availability does not support.”

In her Feb. 16 letter, Martone wrote, “No evidence has been provided to OHS for the assertion that there is in fact a lack of support for the community need for the services. The evaluation of the lack of community need to terminate a service under (certificate of need) is something that is part of a full (certificate of need) process and not one, by law, that is determined by the hospital.”

Martone continued: “The hospital has had since July 1, 2021, to begin to put services back in place, and there is no evidence of any plan or intent to do so.”

She added that the hospital’s ongoing suspension of services is “a willful violation of its duty.”

ECHN has announced plans to sell Rockville General and Manchester Memorial Hospital to Yale New Haven Health System.

Local union leaders are praising the state for cracking down on the hospitals’ current owner’s noncompliance.

“It’s gratifying to see authorities holding executives and managers accountable for the care the community needs and deserves,” Chrissy Ellis, a registered nurse at Rockville Hospital and the president of the Rockville Federation of Registered Nurses, AFT Local 5143, said in a statement.

“Our nurses have been fighting for Rockville Hospital’s viability since its closure during the pandemic,” she said. “The penalty may be a pittance to Prospect, but the principle of putting patients before profits has been upheld. The chain is now on the record as failing to follow the law.”

Wendy Kurtzman, a phlebotomy aid at the hospital and president of the Rockville General Hospital Skilled Service Employees United, AFT Local 5153, said that while the fight is not over, “regulators have given our community some much-needed hope.”

“We are committed to the original goal of our petition to ‘Save Rockville General,’” and bringing it back to a fully functional acute care facility, she said. “This penalty signals that we are on a right and just path forward.”

Rachael Steinway-D’Ostilio, a psychiatric technician who worked at Rockville Hospital’s eating disorder unit and president of the hospital’s Licensed Practical Nurses and Technical Employees United, AFT Local 5144, said that the pending sale of the hospital may have led to ECHN-Prospect continuing to suspend services.

“With the pending sale of our hospitals, Prospect may feel like they’re off the hook here,” she said in a statement. “State officials were crystal clear that the chain cut vital care without regulatory approval. From our collective perspective, the right thing for Prospect to do would be to restore surgical and procedural services — stat!”

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