A 1,400-page document filling three binders was printed in the back seat of a car en route to Hartford on Monday.
Pending approval by state regulators, the future of health care in Waterbury will change forever, as Waterbury Hospital officially filed to enter a joint venture with LHP Hospital Group, a Texas-based hospital management company, and Saint Mary’s Hospital. The goal is to build a new, state-of-the-art medical center.
Although Greater Waterbury Health System, LLC, Waterbury Hospital’s parent company, signed a letter of intent to join the venture back in August 2011, it took a lot of leg work to submit the application for a certificate of need (CON) to the state Office of Health Care Access, or OHCA.
A CON is an authorization required when a health-care facility wants to buy medical equipment, change ownership or control, or introduce, expand, reduce or terminate a service. On Monday, the hospital’s membership board, which is made up of more than 130 community members with oversight authority over major transactions, voted overwhelmingly to enter the joint venture. Most of the members voted by proxy, 32 voted during the meeting.
The new hospital will be a private, tax-paying entity. LHP will own 80 percent of the new joint venture, with the local hospitals owning 10 percent each.
“This is a really important day for us,” said Darlene Stromstad, CEO of Waterbury Hospital. “There haven’t been any new hospitals built in Connecticut for a long time and I think it’s hard to envision what a new hospital will do for this community, but the point was made that this is a decision we need to make.”
There are three potential sites for the new hospital, two in Waterbury and one in a neighboring community. Of the Waterbury sites, one is downtown and the other is on the city’s outskirts.
“Our definitive agreement is that we prefer the hospital be built in Waterbury,” Stromstad said. “And there is increasing interest in the downtown Waterbury location.”
OHCA has 60 days to review the CON and ask questions or for more information. Officials believe a total of four CONs will be needed for the hospital merge and construction of a new facility. Saint Mary’s already filed its CON to join with LHP, and an application for building the new hospital is expected to be complete in six weeks, Stromstad said.
Only after OHCA approves a CON for a new facility can construction begin on the planned 800,000-square-foot hospital with 400 private rooms. The fourth and final certificate is expected to be for a separately-run ambulatory surgical center for the provision of reproductive services currently available in the community that are at odds with the Catholic Church, including abortions and tubal ligations.
Approval of the entire transaction will include public hearings and also a green light from the state Attorney’s General office and the Federal Trade Commission. Officials said they hope to receive all approvals by the beginning of the fall. Hospital construction could take four to five years.
Dr. Carl Sherter, chief of staff at Waterbury Hospital, said the new hospital will be bigger, not smaller, and that part of his job now is to consider what will go where in terms of services.
“Our goal is to not lose our good people, and not just our physicians, but our excellent techs, nurses, and others,” Sherter said. “We want them to know that if they are in health care, there will be jobs. This is the best thing for health care in this city.”
Barbara Davitt, who belongs to the Waterbury Hospital membership committee, agreed.
“People are going to Hartford and New Haven (for medical needs), in order to compete, we need a state-of-the-art hospital and Saint Mary’s and Waterbury Hospital are in no position to do that,” said Davitt, who is also a WATR 1320 AM radio host. “This is the light at the end of the tunnel we can only benefit from it.”