SHARON — Residents heard more about what the future holds for Sharon Hospital and Nuvance Health, including efforts to bolster the ranks of clinicians, through an online community forum this week with Dr. Mark Hirko and other hospital and company officials.

Hirko, who said he was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year, also told attendees that symptoms of the disease remain with a person weeks after they are retested for the virus and get a negative result. He encouraged people to remain vigilant and to get their regular flu shots.

“There’s weakness, loss of coordination. ... We are also susceptible to the flu, and getting the flu vaccine is really considered the best line of defense,” he said. “We’re anticipating that this year’s flu season may be worse for people, mainly because many people didn’t get one, or haven’t gotten one yet.

“We encourage people to continue washing their hands and wear masks, to get through what may possibly be a double hit of the flu along with the omnicron variant of COVID-19,” said Hirko, the hospital’s president.

In October, Sharon Hospital announced it was beginning a “transformative” plan, which included consolidating some of its services and eliminating others, including its labor and delivery department. A public outcry against the closure followed that announcement, and Sharon Hospital is planning to file a certificate of need request with the state Department of Health in the coming weeks, officials said.

“It’s a long process, but we’re gathering all our information for that,” Hirko said during Tuesday’s forum.

Hirko, Jean Ahn, chief strategy officer for Nuvance Health, and other officials also spoke about their efforts to hire more health care professionals, including clinicians. One of the challenges, Hirko and Ahn said, is the fact that Sharon is a rural community.

“We’re recruiting more clinicians, and we’re very encouraged by the progress we’ve made,” Hirko said.

During a question-and-answer session after the forum, some residents asked how they could help recruit more clinicians.

“It’s harder to recruit people in a rural area, and we’re reaching out for help with that,” Hirko said. He recommended that residents interested in helping out could contact the hospital’s foundation. “Those who are interested could join a workgroup to help them promote the hospital,” he said.

The hospital is joining forces with Community Health & Wellness in Torrington and Winsted, using its emergency medical service van to provide testing and other services to the communities served in Sharon and surrounding towns.

“I’ve served as a guest speaker at emergency medical services functions and other stakeholder groups, and we’re encouraged by the outreach the community has brought forth,” Hirko said. “We’ll continue with an aggressive meeting schedule through next year, with the transparency we promised.

“CHWC’s mobile medical unit is at the hospital two days a week, providing vaccines, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon,” he said.

Ahn said the hospital’s “strategic plan” has five points: person-centered care, primary care improvements, ambulatory care, digital health and value-based care.

“We have a vision to improve the lives of every person we serve,” Ahn said. “We continue to make sure we’re enhancing and improving the patient experience in our hospitals, emergency departments, and our institutes, including heart and vascular care, cancer care, neurological science and outpatient imaging and surgery, and Nuvance’s medical practices.

“We recognize primary car is one of our foundational aspects,” she said. “There are additional investments coming. We realize there are more communities that need care and we’re adding continuity to that care in our robust health system.”

She stressed that Nuvance has made “great strides” in its digital health practices, using telehealth for preliminary appointments to get patients the help they need.

“We are also improving our networks, enhancing and advancing them,” she said. “Across the country, more than 140 rural hospitals have closed, and we want to make sure we’re providing the most for the largest number of patients.”

For information about future public forums, visit www.nuvancehealth.org/locations/sharon-hospital.

Connecticut Media Group