The Birthing Center at St. Mary’s Medical Center of Blue Springs will be shutting down later this month.
“Nationally, birthing volumes have been declining over the past several years,” Fleury Yelvington, president and chief executive officer of Carondelet Health, maintained in a recent statement.
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“Despite our efforts to increase volume, careful analysis has shown keeping the Birthing Center open is not a viable option.”
The St. Mary’s Birthing Center space will be devoted to a new Joint and Spine Institute.
Many Blue Springs residents, meanwhile, have spent about a year worried about St. Mary’s future. A sale of the hospital to HCA Midwest, along with St. Joseph Medical Center in south Kansas City, is still pending.
But the recent Birthing Center announcement suggests that St. Mary’s will continue to operate, said Bill Essmann, a member of Faces for St. Mary’s, an ad hoc group that formed last year amid speculation regarding the facility’s future.
“We have been given every indication that St. Mary’s is going to remain open,” Essmann said. “This sounds like a business decision made by HCA to move forward.”
HCA Midwest operates several Kansas City area hospitals, among them Centerpoint Medical Center, which opened in eastern Independence in May 2007.
Centerpoint operates the only Level III neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, in eastern Jackson County, according to its website. Meanwhile, St. Mary’s Medical Center is approximatley the same distance — about five miles — from Centerpoint as it is from Lee’s Summit Medical Center, also operated by HCA Midwest.
Corrine Everson, Lee’s Summit Medical Center vice president of marketing and business development, declined comment regarding the St. Mary’s Birthing Center, citing the pending sale of St. Mary’s.
The center received approval from the Missouri Health Facilities Review Committee in 1985. When the center opened in 1987, it was novel for its time.
While other hospitals offered birthing rooms as alternatives to traditional delivery, St. Mary’s was to be the only hospital in Missouri to offer only a Birthing Center.
Upon its opening, there was much talk about the center’s handsome appointments: the oak rocking chair and cradle, the whirlpool bath, the television and video-cassette recorder.
But the idea was bigger than the furniture. The center represented the opportunity for families — mother, father, siblings — to participate in births in a space more like home than hospital.
At that time the $2.2 million center included five rooms where women were to undergo labor, delivery and recovery. The rooms eliminated the need to move patients as they progressed through the delivery process.
Recently, however, St,. Mary’s learned that Children’s Mercy Hospitals & Clinics was terminating its contract for providing neonatal services at the unit, according to Yelvington’s statement. Twenty-four-hour neonatal coverage “is a community standard,” Yelvington said. Upon that news, she added, members of the hospital’s remaining obstetric group “decided to relinguish their privileges,” she said.
That, she added, left Carondelet Health “no alternative but to close the unit.”
Children’s Mercy has contracted with the St. Mary’s neonatal intensive care unit since 1994, said Jessica Salazar, Children’s Mercy spokeswoman.
The decision to end that service was a joint one, Salazar added.
“The declining birth rate and imminent sale led to this decision, which was made in collaboration with St. Mary’s Medical Center leadership,” Salazar said. “Both systems felt this would be the best decision for the community.”
Statistics from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services support — at least in eastern Jackson County — Yelvington’s statement regarding declining birth rates. There were 3,509 live births in eastern Jackson County in 2006, compared to 3,470 in 2008 and 3,307 in 2010.
The Birth Center’s closing date is expected to be July 26.
“My initial reaction was one of disappointment,” said Carson Ross, Blue Springs mayor. “First, I know what it took to get a birthing center out here. Also, two of my grandchildren have been born in that birthing center, so it was kind of a personal emotional feeling for me.”
But as he talked to hospital adminstrators, he accepted the decision, Ross said.
“If you don’t have the births there, you are spinning your wheels if you have a birth unit, and today you have to watch every penny.”
He remains hopeful regarding St. Mary’s long-term future, he added.
“I have been outspoken on keeping our community hospital open, and I been assured by HCA upper management that they didn’t buy it to close it,” Ross said.
“Theywant to make it better than ever. I want to help them do that.”