Published January 21. 2013 11:00AM Updated January 21. 2013 11:57PM
Westerly — A group of residents concerned about the future of The Westerly Hospital has organized a candlelight “Save Our Hospital” walk from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday.
The 1.4-mile walk will begin at Town Hall and end at the hospital, where participants will join a community meeting in the Henry J. Nardone Conference Center. At the meeting, attorney Mark Russo, the court-appointed special master for the financially troubled hospital, Town Manager Steven Hartford, representing the Westerly Hospital Area Residents Committee, and Dr. Christopher Lehrach, chief transformation officer/interim operations, will update the mastership process and answer questions.
Joe Iacoi, one of the walk organizers, said Monday that the group is hoping to urge Russo and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which is planning to purchase the hospital, to preserve maternity services. Russo announced last week that obstetrics services would continue “at least and up until June 1” and that he is working with L+M to “present a plan for continuing women’s health services” there.
“Westerly needs babies, and we want to maintain the best community hospital we can,” said Iacoi. Both he and his wife were born at The Westerly Hospital, as were their two children.
He said the group is not opposed to L+M acquiring the hospital, but wants to make sure that Russo and L+M rethink the future of maternity care and find a way to preserve it. If women could no longer have their babies at Westerly Hospital, he said, they would be forced to travel about 22 miles to South County Hospital in Wakefield, R.I., or about 18-20 miles to L+M in New London.
Preserving maternity services, he said, is critical to establishing a positive relationship between the hospital and the community.
“It’s the most positive thing in one’s life, and the happiest time for family and friends coming to the hospital,” he said.
Another organizer, Susan Kenyon, said her motivation stems from her personal connections to the maternity services at the hospital. Her grandmother, Gertrude Parmelee, was head of the maternity ward for 30 years, and four of her children and five of her seven grandchildren were born there.
“And my daughter made it to the hospital with just 15 minutes to spare,” she said, adding that the ride to either South County or L+M takes about 25 minutes. “Maternity services are like a cornerstone of the hospital, and the nursing staff there is the best I’ve ever encountered.”
Kenyon said she fears that if women can’t deliver their babies at Westerly Hospital, “we’re going to have babies being born in cars all over the place.”
People planning to attend the walk are asked to bring candles. Women are asked to wear pink and men should wear blue.
For information, call Iacoi at (401) 348-3782 or Kenyon at (401) 377-0063.