Expectant moms in Portage County soon will have to leave the county to deliver their babies after the only labor and delivery unit stops offering birthing services in November.
On Friday, University Hospitals announced plans to shift labor and delivery services from UH Portage Medical Center in Ravenna to UH Geauga Medical Center in Chardon.
The transition will take effect on Nov. 12, according to a release from University Hospitals.
An average of 1,350 babies were born to Portage County residents each year between 2017 and 2021, according to the Ohio Department of Health. It wasn’t immediately clear, however, how many of those babies were born at facilities outside the county.
When asked how many children had been born at the UH Portage facility in the past five and 10 years, Senior Media Relations Strategist Ansley Gogol responded: “The number of deliveries at UH Portage Medical Center have held reasonably steady since 2015, when the hospital joined the UH health system.”
Gogol said providing care for mothers and babies at one centralized location will result in more efficient staffing and more productive care. Though staffing issues are expected to continue, she said, UH is adjusting accordingly in order to provide quality service to patients. “University Hospitals remains fully committed to providing the very best care for expectant mothers and their babies,” Patti DePompei, president of UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s and UH MacDonald Women’s hospitals said in a news release.
A combination of staffing shortages and stress on local and national health care systems contributed to the decision to cease labor and delivery services at University Hospitals’ Portage County location.
“Providing birthing services to patients requires 24/7 coverage from OB/GYN and pediatric physicians to ensure appropriate support for mom and baby during routine and unexpected labor and delivery events, such as emergency cesarean sections,” University Hospitals said in an email statement. “Consolidating labor and delivery services to UH Geauga will offer patients the most comprehensive care including UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s pediatric services for newborns.”
UH Geauga Medical Center is 24 miles away from UH Portage Medical Center, or a 35-minute drive, according to Google Maps.
In addition to the Chardon hospital, others facilities in the region still offering labor and delivery units include services at Summa Akron City Hospital and Cleveland Clinic Akron General in Summit County and St. Joseph Warren Hospital in Trumbull County.
Closure of Portage County’s only labor and delivery center ‘disheartening’
Portage County Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett called the news “disheartening,” but said she discussed the issue with UH Portage President Bill Benoit, who told her emergency births still would take place in the hospital’s emergency department.
She said also she was assured all emergency medical technicians are trained to handle emergency births as well, but those who can be transferred to Geauga County will be taken there.
“It’s disheartening, but I understand the other side of it too,” she said. “It’s not that they don’t want to be in that business — they just can’t anymore.”
Christian-Bennett said Benoit told her there is a shortage of obstetrician/gynecologists and two long-time physicians in the area are planning to retire.
“It put them in a really bad situation,” she said. “There’s a small amount of people who have the proper certification.”
The Portage County Administration Building was once a hospital, and Christian-Bennett said she hears stories daily from people who say they or their family members were born there.
“The good news for Portage County is that we are 20 to 30 minutes from major hospital systems,” she said. “At least there are enough hospitals to fill the void.”
Renee Romine, president of the NAACP, said she is concerned about what will happen to people who will find it difficult to travel outside the county to give birth.
“It could definitely pose a challenge, especially if there’s an emergency situation,” she said. “It could definitely pose problems for people.”
She said there are a lot of single parent families and people who lack basic resources, such as a running vehicle or gas money.
“I know there’s reasons for these decisions, but people need to be at the table to say ‘What about this or that?’ That needs to happen too,” she said.
Rural counties less likely to have obstetric care
According to a recent article published by Kaiser Health News, the UH Portage closure is representative of a larger national trend.
The article cites a 2017 study in the journal Health Affairs that found 9% of rural U.S. counties lost all hospital obstetric services from 2004 to 2014.
A 2020 report from the March of Dimes also found urban counties are more likely to have a hospital providing obstetric care than rural counties (58% percent and 37.6%, respectively.)
Record-Courier staff writer Diane Smith contributed to this report.