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St. Peter’s hosts virtual town hall on closure of Burdett Birth Center, now delayed until June

Democratic Capital Region Assemblyman John McDonald, who is also a pharmacist, testified at a September hearing on the potential closure of the Burdett Birth Center in Troy.
Dave Lucas
Democratic Capital Region Assemblyman John McDonald, who is also a pharmacist, testified at a September hearing on the potential closure of the Burdett Birth Center in Troy.

St. Peter's Health Partners held a virtual open house Thursday evening on the closure of Burdett Birth Center at Samaritan Hospital in Troy.  

Citing staffing and financial concerns, St. Peter’s had planned to shutter Burdett by the end of the year. That decision faced immediate backlash including from New York state Attorney General Tish James.

Community members, elected officials, health care leaders and others testified during a September hearing at Russell Sage College at the behest of James. A month later the Democrat announced the planned closure of the birthing center is delayed until at least June.

St. Peter's Health Partners president and CEO Dr. Steven Hanks explains Burdett's plight, noting the facility operated at a loss since its inception in 2010, emphasizing that the organization is "fully committed to supporting all our patients and colleagues through the closure.”

"We absorbed its losses for the near term in the hope that we'd be able to turn the finances around," Hanks said. "Of course, we never knew what was in our future with the COVID pandemic and the post-pandemic era that has created such difficulty for our not for profit health systems across the country. And in 2020 Burdett did formally become part and parcel of Samaritan Hospital. Now, as I mentioned, unfortunately, then along came COVID. And the matters worsened. The factors I mentioned earlier, the nursing shortages, declining births, continue to strain the unit. In the not too distant past period we might have been able to continue to subsidize the losses in the interest of preserving the service. But Samaritan itself and our parents St. Peter's Health Partners can no longer absorb mounting maternity service losses of this magnitude, now up to $2.7 million a year."

Senior Vice President of Hospital Operations Kim Baker says shuttering Burdett is not a decision St. Peter's wanted to make. "We appreciate and experience the special feeling and culture that exists at Burdett birth center, especially between the midwives, nurses, patients and their families." Baker said. "Health care is not a box that we move from Burdett and unpack it at St Peter's hospital. Rather, it's a special feeling that we admire. And I hope to continue and immerse at St Peter's hospital. I want to say again, that we will continue to provide 100% of the services to 100% of the patients we're currently serving. The only services impacted by this decision is the site of delivery. So all our patients will continue to receive care without interruption."

People watching online were invited to send questions that were addressed by a panel, who for the most part offered assurances that most of the programs, policies and procedures expectant mothers seek will still be available, including admitting emergency births at Samaritan Hospital. Dr. Katrina Kardos is in charge of Samaritan's E.R.

"All of our physicians are board certified or board eligible, residency trained emergency physicians with training in how to evaluate, treat and stabilize patients with obstetrical as well as postpartum emergencies. We also have offered, even before we heard of the closure of Burdett, and will continue to offer, refresher courses on neonatal resuscitation, and we are also going to be offering continued education on OB emergencies," said Kardos. 

Noting that 75% of the women in Rensselaer County who become pregnant already choose delivery outside of that county, Hanks says services will be consolidated at St. Peter's. He adds birthing mothers and women having gynecological issues are the "highest priority" and will get "pushed to the front of the line for transportation" to the hospital.

Hanks fielded a question as to why cutbacks aren't being made at St. Peter's hospital rather than Samaritan, because when the fiscal year ended June 30, 2022, Samaritan broke even on operating income and expenses, while St. Peter's finished $43 million in the red.

"We made reductions across our system to hit our budget this year," hanks said. "Our fiscal year runs, it's an academic, so it runs from July one to June 30th. We had to make an additional $60 million reduction, of which this was just one part, for next year. This was not, you know, considered for the current fiscal year, but we are on target to achieve a 3% operating margin by 2025, which we believe is our path to sustainability."

Hanks says that margin is necessary to maintain investment in technology, facilities and people in order to sustain care.

State Assemblymember John McDonald submitted a question that says in part "is this the only public meeting that St. Peter's Health Partners is planning on this potential closure?"

Hanks responded: "Our lawyers have told me this does meet the requirements that they've looked at in the regulatory language. We are not currently planning any additional forms. Our expectation is we're going to be moving shortly to submit our closure plan. And then we'll see what the DOH has to ask us in response."

The state Department of Health did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

A spokesman says the Attorney General has not yet weighed in on the open house.

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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