Twelve people will lose their jobs, the Community Health Center’s workload will increase and some pregnant residents will face increased health risks: So say opponents of the Sonoma Valley Health Care District’s decision to end the hospital’s obstetrics program.
Despite pleas from residents, the hospital board voted last week to close the department, which ods expected to sustain a half-million-dollar loss in fiscal 2018 and has had a 35 percent drop in births since 2015. Reactions to the closure ranged from resignation to rage.
“For decades, the Sonoma Valley Health Care District mission statement was ‘to maintain, improve and restore the health of everyone in our community.’ Now, they need to change that to, ‘except pregnant women,’” said Rachael Hairston-Loveridge.
She had her second child, Helen, at the Birthplace, the obstetrics department’s labor and delivery area, almost exactly a year ago.
“The impact on the community is huge. This is a bait and switch,” Hairston added. She was referring to a video, “Vote Yes on Measure E,” released in 2017 during a campaign by the hospital promoting an annual $250 parcel tax to help fund the hospital.
Text accompanying the YouTube video reads, “This money is going to provide the necessary funding for the hospital … and ensure that the Sonoma Valley community can continue to benefit from the Birthplace and many other wonderful services.”
Thirteen months after the parcel tax passed in June 2017, the hospital board voted 4-1 to close the Birthplace.
“No wonder new moms and moms-to-be and dads-to-be thought they could count on local delivery at Sonoma Valley Hospital,” board member Bill Boerum, the lone dissenting vote, said in an interview Wednesday. “In that video was a strong suggestion that it (the parcel tax) was going to help OB.”
“We feel the Birthplace should stay open at least for the life of the parcel tax,” Hairston said. The tax commenced July 1, 2017, and will end five years later. It is expected to generate $3.8 million annually for the hospital. Hairston said she hopes the petition will help persuade the board to change direction. “I hope we don’t have to file a lawsuit.”
In response, Kelly Mather, the hospital’s chief executive, said, “The parcel tax has always been about keeping vital emergency services in the community. That includes highly utilized services.”
“We believe we have made every effort we can to market and increase the volumes in the Birthplace, but at fewer than two births a week the service is no longer viable.”
Almost all of the approximately 50 people who spoke at the hospital board meeting on July 25 opposed the closure, as did those commenting on a related Index-Tribune Facebook post last week.
However, one Facebook commenter, Pamela Barca Wittig, said, “With only two births average per week, it makes sense.”
In response, “It’s easy to look at the two births per week, but this facility does more than that,” Hairston commented. “They see pregnant women throughout their pregnancies when they are sick, in distress, especially on weekends.”
The closure means that the closest hospitals for delivering a baby are Petaluma Valley Hospital, which is about 14 miles from downtown Sonoma, and Queen of the Valley Hospital, about 16 miles from downtown.
Eileen Natuzzi, a surgeon who is also a patient advocate, expressed concerns about the distance. Natuzzi maintains a home in Sonoma and her mother lives in the city.