Hospital to close labor and delivery at end of February, task force keeps working on solution

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital will close its labor and delivery unit Feb. 28.

The hospital board met and voted Wednesday to close the unit, at least temporarily.

The move is due to not having enough nurses to staff the unit and meet insurance requirements, CEO Mike Marshall said.

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“One of my concerns with this whole process was our staffing situation,” he said.

The hospital announced the first week in January that it was closing labor and delivery and laying off about 30 employees. After the announcement, BWWMH and the city agreed to keep the unit open an additional 60 days while a task force worked to find a long-term solution.

Since then, three of five delivery nurses have left for other jobs or put in notices that they plan to leave by the end of the month.

“You can’t blame the staff for looking for other jobs,” Marshall said, alluding to the possibility of labor and delivery closing.

The final decision to close came after talking with the hospital’s liability insurance carrier and trying to work out a schedule to staff the unit with 60 percent less staff.

Marshall said labor and delivery nurses need special training and that nurses couldn’t just be moved from other departments.

“Labor and delivery is a specialized unit,’ Marshall said. “We have always had a tough time recruiting nurses [for labor and delivery].”

BWWMH has only hired one nurse with obstetrics training in Marshall’s time with the hospital. All the other nurses have been trained in the unit.

In the best of times that training takes three months but with current staffing levels it would take more like six, Marshall said.

The hospital will continue delivering through Feb. 28. There are currently 20 women scheduled to deliver in March, who will be transitioned to new doctors for prenatal care.

Nineteen of the 20 are covered by Medicaid and will have a care coordinators to help them with the changes, Marshall said.

Despite the closing, the labor and delivery task force will continue to meet and try to find a solution to keep the unit going.

“Our board was adamant that this is a temporary setback,” Marshall said. “The task force will keep on working to come up with a longterm solution for viability. There’s nothing that says once you close it, you can’t reopen it.”

If labor and delivery reopens with a longterm funding solution, Marshall said he hopes the hospital can recruit the lost nurses back.

To that end, Marshall categorized the task force meetings so far as “positive.”

“Very good, very positive, we’ve come up with a list of ideas,” Marshall said. “I think they have been very productive. I think anyone on the task force would feel the same way.”

The task force has a deadline of March 17 to come up with a proposal to save labor and delivery. Within five days of that deadline, the full hospital board will vote on the suggestions.

Mayor Mike Grayson and the city council are hosting a town hall meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18 to discuss labor and delivery, among other topics. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Rooster Hall.

The Marengo County Commission approved a resolution Tuesday that would allow county residents to potentially vote on a two-mill property tax increase to fund labor and delivery.

The commission wanted several conditions met before sending the resolution to Montgomery for approval in the Legislature. Those included unspecified changes in hospital management, that funds be earmarked for labor and delivery and for the county to have representation on the hospital board.

Marshall said no one from the county had communicated those conditions to anyone at the BWWMH or the board.

If approved by the Legislature, the referendum would be put on November’s ballot and would generate $415,000 annually.