One Ohio hospital recently ended their maternity services, another will soon follow suit

OhioHealth’s Shelby Hospital stopped providing maternity services after February, and University Hospitals Lake West Medical Center in Willoughby is ending labor and delivery services April 15

By: - April 7, 2023 5:00 am

a husband and wife hold their newborn baby boy for the first time.

An Ohio hospital recently ended their maternity services and another hospital is ending their labor and delivery services later this month. 

OhioHealth’s Shelby Hospital stopped providing maternity services after Feb. 28, and University Hospitals Lake West Medical Center in Willoughby is ending labor and delivery services April 15.

“When an obstetric unit closes there are still people in that community who are getting pregnant and need to give birth,” said Dr. Julia Interrante, a research fellow and statistical lead at the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. 

Maternal mortality is higher in new mothers than in other industrialized nations and deaths for Black infants nationwide went up over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Infant mortality has gradually gone down overall in the last decade in Ohio, but the infant mortality rate for Black Ohioans is 164% higher than for white Ohioans, according to a recent report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

OhioHealth Shelby Hospital 

The number of babies delivered annually at OhioHealth’s Shelby Hospital, a rural hospital, dropped from about 150 to less than 80, said Dr. Gavin Baumgardner, vice president of clinical services for OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital and OhioHealth Shelby Hospital.

“We really made a decision that we could not maintain the same level of quality and competency with our staff and the care there, so we made the difficult decision to end maternity services at Shelby,” Baumgardner said. 

OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital offers maternity services 13 miles away and Baumgardner said many women were already choosing to deliver their babies at the Mansfield hospital even before services ended at the Shelby Hospital. 

OhioHealth started evaluating the maternity services at Shelby about two years ago when the hospital was averaging about 150 deliveries a year, Baumgardner said. 

“The revenue had dropped because of delivering fewer babies and one of the challenges with maternity units is you have to maintain minimum staffing regardless of whether or not we have babies being delivered or not,” Baumgardner said. 

Finances, however, were not a factor in the decision to end maternity services, he said. 

“We made the decision purely based on whether we can maintain the right level of quality moving forward and there was never really a discussion around finances in regards to this particular decision,” Baumgardner said. 

Geography factored into ending maternity services at the Shelby Hospital, he said.

“The factor was it was not truly a healthcare desert or a remote location where it would be unsafe to travel long, long distances to deliver a baby,” Baumgardner said.

OhioHealth Hardin Memorial Hospital and OhioHealth Morrow County Hospital also do not offer maternity services. 

Shutting down maternity services reflects a trend among rural hospitals. About half of rural community hospitals did not provide obstetrics care by 2020, according to the American Hospital Association. At least 89 obstetric units closed in rural hospitals from 2015 to 2019. 

More than 500,000 babies were born to women who live in rural counties, but only seven percent of obstetric providers practice in rural areas, according to the March of Dimes Maternity Care Deserts report from 2022

“The people who are most burdened by that closure are the ones that have the fewest resources to be able to travel somewhere else,” Interrante said. 

Lake West

From Getty Images.

The Willoughby hospital will consolidate their labor and delivery services at University Hospitals TriPoint Medical Center about 15 miles away. Willoughby is  suburb of Cleveland in Lake County. 

TriPoint is currently a Level I maternal care hospital (meaning it handles low to moderate risk pregnancies), but will be upgraded to Level II, which means it can also handle moderate to high-risk conditions, said Dr. Robyn Strosaker, president and chief operating officer at UH Lake Health Medical Centers. 

“It’s really a move to make sure we got a deliver-site that’s high volume because we know that high-volume delivery sites have better outcomes,” she said. 

The number of babies born each year at Lake West hospital has been declining, but she was unable to say exactly how babies have been born there annually

University Hospitals has already noticed more women choosing to deliver their babies at TriPoint last year before the decision to consolidate was finalized, she said. 

Other Ohio hospitals stopped delivering babies 

Community Memorial Hospital in Hicksville in Defiance County closed their obstetrics department and stopped labor and delivery services in September 2022. 

“It is a very difficult decision,” stated the hospital’s CEO Roy Davis. “Labor and delivery is a unique service line that requires intensive staffing and training. Unfortunately, the pandemic response, years of declining births and the struggle to recruit staff, have led to an unsustainable financial position for the hospital.”

Highland District Hospital in Hillsboro in Highland County ended their labor and delivery services in August 2022. 

“We have given every effort and exhausted many resources to recruit physicians that were as dedicated to rural healthcare,” Tim Parry, President & Chief Executive Officer of Highland District Hospital said to the Highland County Press. “Unfortunately, that process has been very trying.” 

McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital in Maumee in Lucas County ended their labor and delivery services in September 2022 and the hospital recently announced it is expected to close in May. 

The number of babies born in Ohio has been steadily declining, according to Ohio Department of Health data. There were 139,496 babies born in 2013 and 129,436 babies born last year.

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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.