Published January 22. 2013 4:00PM Updated January 22. 2013 11:58PM
Westerly — An expected large turnout for Thursday's community forum on the future of The Westerly Hospital has prompted organizers to change the location from the hospital's conference room to the middle school.
The change, however, is posing some logistical challenges for a group planning a candlelight walk before the 6 p.m. meeting to show community support for the hospital and preservation of maternity services there. The 1.4-mile walk is planned for 5 to 6 p.m. from Town Hall to the hospital, where participants would have been able to go directly into the meeting.
Now, said Susan Kenyon, one of the organizers, the group is hoping participants will come to the march in groups and arrange to carpool to the middle school, about 2 miles from the hospital. Kenyon said walking to the school, at 10 Sandy Hill Road off busy Route 1, wouldn't be feasible because of the amount of traffic.
"We can't be stopped," she said. "They can move the meeting to Providence if they want, but we're still going to show support for the hospital."
Walk organizers are hoping to urge attorney Mark Russo, the court-appointed special master for Westerly Hospital during the receivership process, and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, which is seeking to purchase it, to maintain maternity services. Russo said last week that maternity services would be available through June 1, and that he was working with L+M on plan for continuing women's health services at Westerly Hospital.
Eliminating maternity services would require the approval of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for the department, said Tuesday. No application to change services has been submitted, she added.
The Department of Health and the R.I. Attorney General's Office will also be considering whether to approve L+M's application to purchase the hospital, which has been in receivership since December 2011, for $69 million.
Thursday's forum is being hosted by the Westerly Hospital Area Residents Committee and the hospital. During the forum, an update on progress toward completion of the acquisition of the hospital by L+M will be given by Russo, Town Manager Steven Hartford who represents the residents' committee, and Dr. Christopher Lehrach, chief transformation officer/interim operations.
"We remain committed to providing the latest and most accurate information as we move steadily toward completion of this process and to assuring the strongest future for the hospital," Russo said Tuesday in the news release.
Information on the walk is available at: http://www.facebook.com/events/108531359324943/