Hospital board hears L&D concern

The Bryan W. Whitfield Hospital Board of Directors opened its monthly meeting Thursday morning by allowing concerned visitors to address the Labor and Delivery unit situation.

With the board expected to vote later today on whether or not to close the unit, more than a dozen individuals shared their concerns regarding the potential closure.

“I love my babies and I’d hate to see us lose our department,” Doris London, a BWWMH L&D nurse for 23 years, said to open the forum.

Longtime L&D staffer Jeanette Allen spoke at length on the improvements that have been made in the department over the years.

“When I first started working Labor and Delivery here, they weren’t really resuscitating babies. That wasn’t something they did,” Allen said. “I’m proud to say now we have a lot of children who are still living because of the training we had. If you decide to close labor and delivery because of all the other issues we’re having in 2013, you’re doing the city a disservice.”

Allen went on to read the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority mission statement, focusing primarily on the mantra to provide “Quality Healthcare, Right Here at Home.”

“So these ladies are going to have to drive at least a 60 mile radius north, south, east and west to have a baby,” Allen said of the potential results of a unit closure. “You’re going to have babies being delivered at home in the toilet getting infections. You’re going to have babies being delivered on the side of the highway. You’re going to have havoc.”

Allen closed her address by noting that there are ways the unit can do more and can make more money.

“We have ways that we can make money in that department if y’all would let us,” she told the board.

“I am adamantly against closing labor and delivery. I think we need to sharpen our pencils. I had my babies here. My children had their babies here,” Mary Jo Martin said. “We had the opportunity to have the best hospital in a 50 mile radius. I have probably spent at least 25 hours on the phone begging to keep it. I just think we need to do everything because some people don’t have a choice. And I’m for the underdog.”

Barbara Sessions, who heads an outreach program that services at-risk pregnancies, focused on how vital the unit is to low-income families.

“I am here to represent that people who have no choice,” she said. “The majority are people who have real need for love, for attention. Most of them come from homes who don’t have a father. The general population, these are people that are just lost in society.”

Sessions’ noted her own recent emergency room visit. Speaking from a patient’s perspective, she commented that the hospital should be more concerned with investment in its services rather than its aesthetic appeal.

“People are more important than aesthetic appeal,” she said.

Community member Betsy Coplin, who gave birth to all four of her children in Demopolis, looked at the closure from the perspective of a young family.

“I don’t know how I would have felt as a young person moving here, knowing that this hospital didn’t deliver babies,” Coplin said.

Coplin also commented on the quality of personal care provided by local doctors, something that – in her estimation – is not as prominent at larger hospitals.

“I know my doctors. They know who I am. And I’m not a number,” she said. “As a community member, I’ve tried to use this hospital and I don’t want to see it go down.”

Local realtor Barbara Myers said that the hospital with its OB unit is a strong selling point for young couples as they move into town.

“In showing people the town, I’ve been able to say we have a wonderful hospital,” Myers said.

Myers also noted that, in her experience, local perception has been the hospital is lagging in certain ways and that closing L&D would do nothing to help that feeling.

“Perception in a small town is major,” she said. “We’ve got awesome doctors in this town. I’ve been here 21 years and the perception has been that the hospital does not measure up to the doctors.”

One L&D nurse expressed her fear that BWWMH would go the way over other nearby hospitals.

“Yeah, finances are bad. But we’re doing the same thing here we’ve been doing for the last 25 years,” she said. “I can understand how some of the payments have decreased, but the biggest thing I see is that I don’t want the hospital to turn into a Greene County Hospital or a Hale County Hospital.”

As the open forum pressed on, the growing feeling in the room among the L&D nurses in attendance was that they were willing to take on more responsibility to improve continuity of care and the hospital’s bottom line.

“I know a lot of nurses here, as well as myself, would love to take care of antepartum and postpartum. We’re taking care of them anyway,” one nurse said. “We can increase the continuity of care as well as help our budget.”

AmStar EMS Director Mitchell Snipes brought a unique perspective as he referenced the fact that the ambulance service he manages was once a hospital function.

“AmStar was in the same situation four years ago next month. In this process, what we have determined is that we have to think out of the box. What ya’ll have done these past years is obviously not working. Maybe we should try something a little different,” Snipes said.

Snipes encouraged the board to find ways to utilize the doctors, nurses and community members and their collective willingness to keep the OB unit open.

“It is not necessarily about the OB issue right now as much as it is about the hospital as a whole. As you deteriorate services or eliminate services are reassign services, you stand a risk to lose,” Snipes said. “Get beyond the numbers and think about it. There is an answer there, but it is going to take great effort in order to achieve that. As you go through this process, understand that there are options.”

Dr. Gerald Hodge, who has spent nearly a quarter of a century in the City of the People, stood up and quietly spoke of how long he has spent more time in Demopolis than any place he has previously lived.

“OB is my one great passion,” Hodge said. “I just can’t imagine me staying at a place that doesn’t do OB.”

Dr. Ronnie Chu was the final speaker from the gallery. He noted that his clinic has a female doctor relocating to the city in September, one that could prove a great asset in the quest to improve the OB’s bottom line.

“A lot of ladies would like to have a female to deliver babies. We achieved that,” Chu said. “Why not give her a few years to see if she can get here and work her magic?”

As the opening session drew to a close, Dr. Alex Curtis noted that the board determined to do more advertising for its OB unit when the facility was last on the chopping block.

“We haven’t really done that,” Curtis said. “I’ll foot 50 percent of the advertising bill.”

The board is expected to vote on the matter this afternoon. As the session readied to close, board member Dr. Judy Travis noted her feelings on the matter.

“I will never vote to close Labor and Delivery,” Travis said. “In the absolute minute possibility that this hospital ever closes, I would want the last patient walking out of here to be carrying a newborn.”

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