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Springfield Hospital to close birthing center by June



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Trustees overseeing cash-strapped Springfield Hospital have voted to close its childbirth center.

The tentative date for the change is June 1, contingent on staffing availability, hospital officials said.

“As painful as this decision is, it will help Springfield Hospital continue to provide greatly needed access to other healthcare services for many years to come,” Interim CEO Mike Halstead said in a news release Wednesday.

He said “continuing to offer childbirth services is too large a financial strain on the hospital at a time when it is not strong enough to support continued losses.”

Hospital officials said 152 babies were born at the Springfield Hospital in fiscal year 2018, down from 163 the previous year.

Sheena Thurston, whose baby is due in July, was told of the closing during a visit to her doctor on Wednesday afternoon.

“We have to go to and now meet new doctors that we don’t know, and that’s horrible. It’s a horrible feeling,” Thurston said.

She was told her current ob-gyn wouldn’t be performing the upcoming delivery, which would likely have to take place in Brattleboro, Vt.

“It’s sad because I’ve had him for seven years,” said Thurston, who lives in Westminster, Vt. “He’s birthed three of my kids. He was supposed to birth this one and he’s not going to be able to do that.”

Springfield Medical Care Systems, the hospital’s parent company, is one of eight that failed to make money on operations in the 2018 fiscal year, according to a recent Green Mountain Care Board review of state hospitals.

The hospital had a negative operating margin of 12.8 percent and lost about $7 million in operations last year, according to VtDigger.

Those losses forced the hospital this year to cut 27 jobs and reduced wages as part of its efforts to find $6.5 million in cost savings.

The decision to close Springfield Hospital’s childbirth center will likely force families to drive long distances to the nearest delivery room.

That will be tough on the many families who rely on Medicaid and already struggle to find transportation, said Margot Holmes, executive director of the Springfield Area Parent Child Center, a nonprofit that serves pregnant women and families in southern Windsor and Windham counties.

“Having to go up to an hour away to access prenatal care and care that the childbirth center supports, I think, is going to have a huge impact,” she said.

The closure also leaves few choices for the Upper Valley’s expecting families. Besides Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Gifford Medical Center in Randolph is the only other hospital in the Upper Valley with a birthing center.

DHMC’s 23-bed birthing pavilion in Lebanon is a roughly 45-minute drive north from Springfield, while Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is about 45 minutes to the south of Springfield.

Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital closed its maternity ward last summer, citing high costs and a declining birth rate.

Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, New London Hospital and Cottage Hospital in Haverhill have closed their birthing centers in recent years.

DHMC already serves “complicated patients” referred from Springfield and officials at the two hospitals engaged in discussions prior to Wednesday’s announcement, according to D-H spokesman Rick Adams.

“Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and other hospitals in the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system stand ready to assist in coordinating the provision of care for women who will be affected by this closing,” he wrote in an email.

Gifford, which has five beds in its maternity ward, would also be available to families affected by the newest closure, said Joshua White, Gifford Health Care’s chief medical officer.

However, he’s not expecting a large increase in demand.

White, whose son was born at the Randolph hospital, said there are no plans to follow suit and close its b irthing center, adding such discussions are “not on the table.”

“We believe in (the maternity ward) very strongly as an important part of the community service we provide and are committed to making it work,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@ vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Update

This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to include the number of births at the hospital.