Officials cited a declining birth rate and a higher-than-normal at-risk pool of expectant mothers in an announcement made Tuesday that labor and delivery services at Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham would close next month.
The services will be transferred to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst. The last day of deliveries at Richmond Memorial will be Feb. 28.
In a news release emailed to The Daily Journal late Tuesday morning, hospital officials indicated that “although Richmond Memorial will no longer offer labor and delivery services for expectant mothers, FirstHealth OB/GYN will continue to provide prenatal care and gynecological care and surgical procedures through its clinic on Long Drive.”
Patients will be notified of this change in person, while at the clinic, and by letters mailed to patient’s homes, according to the release.
A FirstHealth employee told The Daily Journal that workers were notified at an impromptu gathering within the department at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday. The employee said the hospital’s board of advisors and David J. Kilarski, CEO of FirstHealth of the Carolinas, met at 7 a.m. Tuesday in Rockingham before informing employees.
Twenty-three full-time and five part-time employees will be impacted, according to hospital officials. The hospital’s human resources personnel will offer assistance to all affected employees. Some could be reassigned within FirstHealth or other health care organizations in the area. Those unable to continue work with FirstHealth will be offered a severance package.
John Jackson, hospital president, said he and board “feel it is ultimately the best decision for our patients” as Moore Regional Hospital offers specialized maternal, infant and newborn care. There, the 13-bed Clark NICU treats premature and sick newborns and is staffed by specially trained nurses and physicians.
Officials also cited “cost pressures associated with declining birth rates” as reasons for the decision. The birth rate in Richmond County has been trending downward sharply over the past several years. In 2013, 333 babies were delivered at Richmond Memorial, compared to more than 600 in 2007.
“In addition to the steep decline in births, the number of women of child-bearing age in the county is also dropping,” according to the release.
The decision was in the best interests of the patients, said Daniel R. Barnes, president of FirstHealth Physician Group.
“While we know that some patients may be inconvenienced, we hope that the access to highly specialized care, in this case a unit specifically designed and equipped to handle high-risk pregnancies, as well as the continued outstanding outpatient clinic services, will more than compensate.”
All newborn screenings will be handled by the pediatrician on call at Moore Regional Hospital. Upon discharge, newborns will continue to be seen by the pediatrician of the parents’ choice.
Families traveling to Pinehurst for labor and delivery services will have access to the Clara McLean House for lodging. The house provides accommodations to families of patients receiving care at Moore Regional Hospital.