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Sonoma Valley Hospital board mulls shutting obstetrics unit

By Don Frances INDEX-TRIBUNE NEWS EDITOR

This Thursday, as promised, the Sonoma Valley Health Care District’s five-member board of directors will consider a proposal to close the Valley’s only maternity ward in a cost-saving move.

According to the regular meeting agenda, Sonoma Valley Hospital CEO Kelly Mather is recommending that the board close maternity because it “has had questionable viability for many years.”

“Obstetrics currently loses approximately $86,000 per month and has very low demand from our community,” hospital staff wrote in the upcoming meeting’s agenda packet. “Due to the necessity for future financial health, and after exhausting all possible avenues to increase the volumes to make this service viable, we recommend Obstetrics be closed.”

Hospital spokesman Bob Kenney said board members are not obligated to make a final decision Thursday, although they have the option.

“They could vote or they could table it for a month for further discussion,” he said.

Last month, Mather told the Index-Tribune she hates the idea of closing such a cherished part of hospital operations, but believes the hospital has no choice.

“Our financial health and viability is key right now,” she said.

Administrators say closing obstetrics would be the last of several recent restructurings designed to fix the hospital’s ailing budget. According to the agenda packet, SVH has 11 “major service units,” and most are profitable or “are close to break even, but provide a return on the investment by providing important foundational services.”

One exception is the hospital’s ER, a big money-loser. However, “it has been agreed that providing Emergency Care is our first priority,” hospital staff wrote. In addition, emergency services are supported by an annual parcel tax.

That leaves obstetrics, the fate of which may be decided Thursday, Jan. 9, during the board’s regular meeting. The meeting is open to the public and starts at 6 p.m. in the SVH Basement Conference Room. Sonoma Valley Hospital is located at 347 Andrieux St., Sonoma. For more information visit svh.com.