SOUTHINGTON — Pent-up anxiety about Bradley Memorial Hospital's future boiled up Monday at a public forum where all 24 speakers accused the hospital's owners of paring services and planning to shut the facility.
About 100 people gathered in the auditorium of Derynowski School for the two-hour session called by Hartford HealthCare to talk with residents about its plans for Bradley and the possibility of expanding services to better serve the region.
The forum was held a week after angry residents spent two hours lambasting Hartford HealthCare about what people considered an erosion of services at Bradley. Hartford HealthCare officials said Monday's meeting was the first of what they said will be a series of discussions with residents about plans for the hospital.
Trish Walden, a vice president of a Hartford HealthCare division, started the session by telling the audience that the health network did a poor job of "communicating" and wanted to do a better job. Plans by Hartford HealthCare to close the emergency room at Bradley and move it to a new location on Queen Street sparked the most recent uproar.
After Walden's opening statement, speaker after speaker came to the microphone for the next two hours to accuse the network of caring only for the bottom line and not patients. They accused the group of laying off staff, stripping services from Bradley in recent years, and saying nothing to contradict widespread fears that Bradley will be closed.
Jim Champagne, who is assisting his wife, Rosemary, with a petition drive to oppose planned changes at Bradley, said Monday night they'd collected 4,500 signatures so far.
Throughout the forum, speakers spoke passionately about preserving the community hospital, founded in 1938 by a wealthly industrialist who left millions to support it. They admonished Hartford HealthCare for ignoring townspeoples' wishes and showing no concern.
Cheryl Lounsbury, vice chairwoman of the town council, told the panel of three Hartford HealhCare officials that the council is frustrated by the way the network has handled public relations concerning Bradley. The council has expressed opposition to any changes at Bradley, and Lounsbury said she no longer trusts the network to preserve the hospital.
At he meeting's end, Walden said Hartford HeathCare "will continue this conversation." The health network has set up an advisory committee including town officials and residents to discuss future plans.
The depth of mistrust was evidenced by occasional catcalls from irate residents, speakers who pounded the podium and frequent applause when speakers were critical of Hartford HealthCare.
After the meeting, one of the speakers, Bonnie Sica, told people in the foyer that she and others are planning to form a committee to discuss ways to preserve Bradley. More information will be made public soon, she told listeners.