A controversial plan that would have seen Day Kimball Healthcare in rural Northeast Connecticut become part of the Massachusetts-based Catholic healthcare system Covenant Health has been called off.
Covenant and Day Kimball officials confirmed Tuesday that the deal, which was first announced over a year ago and is nearing the end of a regulatory review process, will not go ahead after Covenant decided to end the process.
“Obviously we’re incredibly disappointed,” Kyle Kramer, Day Kimball’s chief executive, said Tuesday. “The reality is that this comes as a shock to us and we will of course carefully consider our next steps, but we remain committed to continuing to serve as a strong employer and to meet the healthcare needs of our region.”
Day Kimball signed an affiliation agreement with Covenant Health in November 2021 and filed a Connecticut regulatory approval application, known as a Certificate of Need, with the Office of Health Strategy this past April.
The deal was billed as a way to maintain the hospital’s financial viability. Day Kimball is one of the few remaining independent hospitals in the state. Like other Connecticut hospitals, Day Kimball has faced significant challenges in recent years. The acquisition of Covenant would have brought the ailing healthcare system into a larger network and absorbed tens of millions of dollars in debt.
But almost immediately, the proposed membership met with opposition from a group of residents who feared the Catholic ownership could limit health-care services in a part of the state where residents have few alternatives.
Catholic health care providers adhere to what are known as the Ethical and Religious Guidelines for Catholic Health Services, or ERDs, which restrict certain practices related to reproductive health, emergency contraception, fertility, gender-affirming, terminal care, and other care.
Kramer insisted Tuesday that the canceled deal had nothing to do with Catholic guidelines, instead hinting that Covenant likely faces the same financial challenges as other healthcare systems.
“The reality is that this was a purely financial decision [Covenant’s] likely ability to meet commitments required in the affiliation,” he said.
During the needs assessment process, the Office of Health Strategy had extensive discussions with hospital management about how Day Kimball would ensure access to services that would be discontinued as a result of the adoption of the ERDs. They inquired if Day Kimball would provide referrals and transportation for patients who would use these services; whether Day Kimball’s home and hospice care would be subject to policy changes; and they asked for more details on Day Kimball’s financial challenges.
Hundreds of pages of documentation were submitted by the hospital and regulators. State legislators agreed. And dozens of parishioners submitted testimonies, many with concerns about the Catholic property and many concerned that without this new property the hospital could fail. In addition to being one of the few health care options in one of the state’s rural regions, Day Kimball is also one of the largest employers in the area.
Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Public Health Committee heard testimony on a bill that appeared to address the issues raised in the Kimball deal on Covenant Day, “A Patient Access to Reproductive Health Care Bill.” Members of the group Save Day Kimball Healthcare and the American Civil Liberties Union, who opposed the merger, testified in support of the bill.
“Connecticut needs to do its part to ensure that anyone seeking abortion and related services in this state can get the care they need,” wrote the ACLU’s Jess Zaccagnino.
The Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference rejected the bill. “Pro-abortion advocates who support this type of legislation do not recognize the vast array of quality services that Catholic hospitals offer. This is evident in the current effort to stop the merger of Putnam’s Day Kimball Hospital with Covenant Health, a Catholic healthcare system,” lobbyist Deacon David Reynolds wrote on behalf of the group. “The bigger concern they should have is what would happen to all of the medical services that Day Kimball provides once they can no longer operate.”
Day Kimball’s next move
The requirement certification process was about to end when Day Kimball received word that Covenant was canceling their deal. The Office of Health Strategy had completed its investigation and deemed the application closed in November, and a public hearing was scheduled for April 4.
This hearing has been cancelled. According to a spokeswoman, Covenant Health has withdrawn its requirement certificate application.
House Bill 6818, meanwhile, will not advance from committee after lawmakers decided not to take any further action.
In a statement, the local group opposed to the deal, Save Day Kimball Healthcare, said: “We are pleased that the collective well-being and health of everyone in the community is being protected. We will continue to work cooperatively to ensure future plans for DKH reflect the entire population of Northeast Connecticut.”
The failed deal comes after Day Kimball spent years unsuccessfully seeking partnerships with health systems in the area, including Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health. Kramer said the hospital will continue to look for a partner but will be “cautious and thoughtful” about the process and may revisit previous applicants.
He also sought to allay staff and community concerns about the failure of the Covenant deal.
“Our commitment, focus and intention is not to be one of those small rural hospitals that wants to close, but one that defies all odds, rises to the challenge and meets the needs of its community in a helpful and positive way,” says Kramer called.