Las Vegas, NM – Many pregnant women will soon find a “closed” sign on the doors of Alta Vista Regional Hospital’s obstetrics department.
On Tuesday morning, the local hospital announced a temporary closure of the unit, starting Monday, citing market conditions. The news, however, did not come as a surprise to one local midwife who believes the closure will directly and profoundly affect her patients’ well-being. The hospital’s union contends the closure may also create havoc for nurses currently in the obstetric department.
In a press release, hospital officials said the decision to close the department was “not made lightly” but adds the closure is the appropriate decision to make.
“We understand how important prenatal and obstetrical care is to the community and it is our intention to rebuild the program once the necessary providers for its success are in place … Other services at Alta Vista Regional Hospital are not impacted,” hospital spokesperson Linda Leyba told the Optic in a written statement Tuesday afternoon.
Connie Trujillo, owner and midwife at Alumbra Women’s Health and Maternity Care, LLC, said the closure would impact her practice’s 70 patients who are due to deliver between now and August. She said she and her staff would now have to travel to hospitals in Santa Fe or other locations to deliver their babies.
Trujillo said she expected the closure but was hoping for the best. She is now seeking a partnership with Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe to allow her practice to deliver babies there.
Alta Vista Regional Hospital employees’ union president Lorie MacIver echoed Trujillo’s sentiments.
In an emailed statement, MacIver wrote, “While we are obviously going to work to mitigate the negative impact on our members who will be impacted by any layoffs, we are also very concerned that the closing of this important hospital unit will have a terrible impact on the people in Las Vegas and the surrounding counties which Alta Vista serves.”
AVRH officials said they are fully aware of the concerns on closing the department temporarily but will work with patients for a “transition of care.” Officials added that the hospital’s emergency department will provide care for obstetrics-related medical emergencies and, if necessary, “make arrangements for a transfer to a higher level of care.”
Pat Leahan, co-director of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center and a vocal critic of the local for-profit hospital said, “This is what happens when a large for-profit out-of-state corporation runs our regional hospital. They are, first and foremost, beholden to their shareholders rather than to us.”
The news bothered Leahan, Trujillo and MacIver. They all agree the hospital’s closing will put a strain on the people of Las Vegas as they will now need to travel at least an hour to another hospital to deliver their child.
Obstetric and other hospital services extend well beyond San Miguel County, with some patients traveling from as far as Springer, Roy and Mora.
“We are concerned for the expecting mothers and families of the area who will now have to travel considerable distances to deliver their babies,” MacIver said. “This is more than an inconvenience. Rural hospitals need to be able to serve all primary and important health needs of the communities they operate in. And birthing children is about as primary and important as it gets.”
Leahan said she spoke with a nurse in the unit and was told workers were not given sufficient notice of the closing.
“They had to learn about it publicly. When KFUN/KLVF ran the story on the local news at noon, this employee had still not been told about potentially being out of a job in six days. But I’ll bet you the higher-ups knew for quite some time that this was coming,” Leahan said. “And to deliver the news on Election Day, and with so many other front-page stories unfolding right now — it’s hard to believe that was not planned. If only our pregnant women could plan their deliveries with such convenience.”
Trujillo, who has been delivering babies at the hospital since 2007, said she is worried about the expectant mothers who do not have the financial means or a dependable vehicle to get to Santa Fe. She also said there are dangers when traveling distances when a woman is in labor.
Trujillo’s said her business and her patients have also been taking a hit for several months as the hospital has been diverting services regularly since December. MacIver echoed her concerns as she said many hospitals are more concerned with the bottom line of finances, with no discussion with the community when making these types of decisions.
MacIver said, “This closing of such a very critical family service at a local hospital provides more evidence that hospitals need to open the communication process far ahead of the decision to close down a unit of essential service … It needs to be said that such decisions to end services impacts a community in many ways, especially in rural areas, and hospitals need to discuss the future they see with all stakeholders long before such a drastic step is taken. Local officials, employees and consumers are all stakeholders, not just the hospital administration and its stockholders.”
When asked about the job status of the nurses who work in the department, Leyba said hospital officials are “working with them on other opportunities” within the hospital.
Maclver said the union is still waiting for hospital officials to provide them with the number of employees affected by the closure of the unit.
She said, “While we wait, we are preparing to assist our members in every way we can, because that’s what unions do in times like these.”
Story provided by Las Vegas Optic.
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