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Some maternity centers in the Northeast are closing

Sharon Hospital

For years, hospital-based obstetric services have been declining across the country. Two maternity centers in the Northeast have announced they are closing.

Six months ago Sharon Hospital and its parent company Nuvance Health announced the Connecticut facility, which also serves Dutchess and Columbia Counties in New York, would stop delivering babies.

Hospital officials expect to close the labor and delivery unit within the year. A member of Nuvance Health's "Hospital Leadership Team," Dr. Mark Hirko, serves as president of both Sharon Hospital and Putnam Hospital in Carmel, New York, which "temporarily suspended" labor and delivery services on March 1st.

He says officials gave "very early notice" that maternity services would be ending at Sharon and developed transfer arrangements with local hospitals. Emergency Room staff have been trained in "the basics of childbirth."

"We would deliver the baby as needed, stabilize both mother and baby and then transfer to an appropriate facility," said Hirko. "If they were, if it was early on in the labor, then we would ask where, based upon their obstetrician and their personal needs and wishes, where they would like to go."

Hirko says the decision to cut maternity services came after Sharon Hospital had seen less than 200 annual baby deliveries over the previous four years, the equivalent of less than one delivery a day. The fully staffed unit could go days without a delivery.

"For us to actually maintain a full service hospital along with the possibility of maintaining a labor and delivery unit, you would almost have to double or triple the population, just to gain the numbers of childbirth to adequately justify the cost," Hirko said.

Deborah Moore founded Save Sharon Hospital in 2018, the last time the facility tried to shutter Labor and Delivery. She alleges there are other factors at play.

"They have discovered that if they closed down the labor and delivery services in the hospital, that eventually the hospital will die," Moore said. "It's all for money. And at Sharon Hospital, we have had the same birth rate for at least 15 years. But suddenly, with the new owners, Nuvance, it was too expensive."

Hirko says Nuvance will continue to provide the best of care as it tries to cover every contingency it can think of. By way of disclosure, Nuvance has been a WAMC underwriter.

The Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, New York, part of the UVM Health Network, announced last week that it has closed the hospital’s maternity unit. Alice Hyde President Michelle LeBeau explained that births had declined more than 46%.

"When we looked at the number of births that we were having here, in Malone, we found that our numbers were declining, we were slowly starting to lose ground on the number of little people that are being born in our community," LeBeau said. "With lots of support from the team here, we have been on diversion since October, and trying to make sure that we can service people appropriately. We're gonna take a regional approach to how we provide care and we're gonna keep pre and postnatal care as well as GYN care here local in the Malone community with the providers that we have, and our current staff in our great OBGYN office."

The hospital has created a nurse navigator position to work with expectant mothers to help them make birth plans. The nearest hospitals are in Plattsburgh, Saranac Lake and Potsdam.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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