Maternity service ended because of risk, ACRH administrator says

Lack of providers, low number of baby deliveries led to closing of maternity service at Allen County Regional Hospital - Saint Luke's

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October 16, 2020 - 2:39 PM

Elmore Patterson, administrator of Allen County Regional Hospital. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Allen County Regional Hospital’s administrator provided more clarity as to why Saint Luke’s Health System made the decision to close the local maternity service.

Elmore Patterson, administrator of ACRH, said Saint Luke’s studied the matter in depth. The decision came down to protecting patients from risk because the community has just one obstetrics provider, Dr. Timothy Spears. But one person can’t be everywhere at all times, and there’s no other local qualified provider to care for maternity patients when Spears is unavailable.  

“We did not have backup coverage for one solo person rendering obstetrics care,” Patterson explained. “That was going to put patients at risk when having babies in Allen County.”

ACRH delivers about a third of the babies born to Allen County residents, Patterson said. Fewer than 50 babies a year are born at ACRH. 

The maternity department has three full-time staff members. Because of the low volume of births, those nurses often work in other departments and aren’t able to utilize their OB skills. 

When maternity service ends at ACRH in November, they’ll be offered positions within the Saint Luke’s system.

The low volume of deliveries also makes it difficult to recruit and retain qualified OB providers, Patterson said.

Because labor can occur at any time, it’s important that a provider live in the local community.

For years, long before Saint Luke’s came into the picture, ACRH attempted to recruit an OB/GYN provider but was unsuccessful.

THOUGH the hospital will no longer provide maternity services, the emergency department is capable of delivering a baby in an emergency situation.

But if a mother is in labor, she will be transferred to another facility that has a maternity department if it’s possible to do so.

Neosho Memorial Regional Hospital in Chanute is the closest such facility. 

“We’re still here to provide emergency care,” Patterson said. “But the best option is for a mother and baby to get to a facility that provides a maternity department that can render that level of care.”

SAINT LUKE’S may be ending maternity services, but they’re investing in other services that affect a greater number of patients, Patterson said.

For example, Saint Luke’s is reallocating some of its equipment to ACRH. That includes a blood pressure kiosk and a 3D mammography machine, to start. 

See related story on the importance of checking and controlling blood pressure.

The 3D mammography service is expected to be available after the first of the year. Mammography services have not been available at ACRH since 2017, when the hospital lost mammography accreditation because of a problem with the radiology provider who read the scans. When the service resumes, scans will be read by radiologists with Saint Luke’s.

The 3D mammography machine, which can come with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the blood pressure kiosk will be provided at no cost to local taxpayers.

Under the lease agreement with Saint Luke’s, Allen County taxpayers own the hospital building and other facilities. The county is responsible for its upkeep, while Saint Luke’s provides employees and services.

It’s not yet known what will be done with the space currently used by the maternity department, but Saint Luke’s officials have expressed a desire to find room for increased outpatient and speciality clinics.

“As we grow as a community, we will always be looking at services and seeing what’s the right fit for Allen County,” Patterson said. 

“Unfortunately, any time you take something away we’re going to be saddened. The main thing in this case is risk. We didn’t want to put anyone at risk when having a baby.”

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