MercyOne decides to ‘pause’ labor, delivery services next summer
Mercy One New Hampton Medical Center will “pause” the hospital’s obstetric services, effective July 1, 2020, and Chickasaw County’s only hospital is not alone when it comes to dealing with OB issues.
MercyOne administrators made the announcement with a press release that was sent out to local media on Friday, the same day many patients received word that two MercyOne doctors — John and Shea Epperly — will be leaving Mason City after their contract expires in June.
The hospital requested that “our news release be printed as provided,” and the release reads as follows:
After careful review and input from physicians regarding their future practice goals and objectives, MercyOne New Hampton Medical Center announced plans today to pause the hospital’s obstetric (OB) services, effective July 1, 2020.
OB care and services will continue over the next seven months, but during this time hospital leaders will also be engaging various community partners to discuss the possible changes. MercyOne’s current physicians have opted to no longer provide OB services as a part of their practice, which was the main trigger point for this decision.
“We need to evaluate the health care needs of the community, as the demand for these services has been steadily decreasing and fewer babies are being born in New Hampton,” said Donna Kubesh, chair of the MercyOne New Hampton Board of Directors. “The hospital delivers only 30 percent of the babies born to Chickasaw County women, which is only averaging 50 to 60 births a year and not sustainable.”
Before a pause of services occurs, the hospital plans to continue evaluating the needs of the OB program through a thorough discernment process. This includes gathering input from the community and looking at possible service alternatives. Given this, hospital leaders plan to organize community meetings and meet with other key stakeholders to discuss the upcoming changes.
“We remain extremely proud of the excellent patient care and services our labor and delivery physicians and colleagues have provided to families in our community over the years,” added Dr. John Epperly. “However, labor and delivery can be medically complex and costly to maintain these programs and skills given the low volumes in New Hampton.”
The planned pause of OB services next July does not directly impact current patients. And patients encountering any type of medical emergency in the future – obstetrics-related or otherwise – will still be able to receive services at MercyOne New Hampton, as the hospital will have experienced staff on-hand to provide emergency services and medical care, if necessary.
“Given the area’s changing demographics, it is our role as a hospital to respond to the community’s needs. This is why we look forward to discussing proposed changes in OB services as a part of community forums we will be holding in the near future,” said Aaron Flugum, president and CEO, MercyOne New Hampton. “We continue to offer new and expanded health care services to meet the needs of our patients and families, such as recent investments in Senior Life Solutions, behavioral health and occupational therapy.”
The pausing of labor and delivery services isn’t unique to New Hampton; in fact, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 29 Iowa hospitals have closed their maternity wards since the new century began.
The problem is especially acute in rural Iowa, and according to a report aired on Des Moines’ WHO-TV last week, 66 counties in Iowa do not have access to labor and delivery services.
The Nursing and Clinical Services at the Iowa Hospital Association said last week that 11 more Iowa hospitals delivering less than 100 babies a year are on the brink of closing, and a few days later, MercyOne New Hampton announced its “pause.”
After a three-year hiatus, MercyOne reopened its OB wing in 2011. The hospital did so after it hired six new doctors, who requested that labor and delivery services be offered.
And while Des Moines and Cedar Rapids-Iowa City are actually seeing more labor and delivery options becoming available, it’s not just small cities like New Hampton that are facing challenges.
Take Marshalltown, a city of 27,000, as an example. In September, Unity Point Hospital in the city announced it was closing its maternity ward.
In that WHO broadcast, Blank Children’s Hospital Chief Operating Officer Dr. Steve Stephenson said the issue of labor and delivery services has reached crisis proportions. He pointed out that finding and keeping qualified physicians in rural Iowa is a challenge, and that Iowa ranks 50th when it comes to obstetricians per population.
And because there are fewer doctors who can provide those delivery services at rural hospitals, that means many of them are rarely “off the clock.”
“If you are providing obstetric care in a small rural hospital,” Stephenson said, “you are typically sharing calls with one or two other people and so your burden of being on call and having to be available all the time.”
MercyOne New Hampton Medical Center will hold three community forums in December to discuss the future of the obstetrics program at the hospital.
Last month, MercyOne announced it will “pause” its labor and delivery services this coming summer, but hospital officials want to discuss the future of the services with community members.
The discussion groups will be held at noon on Monday, Dec. 16, 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17 and 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 18, in the hospital’s Health Education Center.
Groups will be limited to 20 people in order to best facilitate open discussion. Each group will be served a light meal, and to register, call 641-394-1626 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.