HUDSON — Beginning Oct. 1, expectant mothers will no longer give birth at Columbia Memorial Health.
Those services are being moved to The Birth Place at Albany Medical Center.
The decision is not a precursor to closing the hospital, Columbia Memorial Health spokesman Bill Van Slyke said.
Prenatal and postnatal care — medical services provided in the months leading up to birth and immediately afterward — will continue to be provided at the two Columbia Memorial Health offices in Hudson and Catskill, but the actual birthing experience will be moved to Albany Medical Center.
The decision was made due to a national shortage of obstetricians, along with a declining number of births.
“This was not a decision we made, it was a decision made for us, driven by market forces,” Van Slyke said of the shortage of available obstetricians.
Because of the lack of obstetricians, the hospital had come to rely on “locums,” physicians who temporarily cover a position, Van Slyke said. Often, that meant a patient might see a particular physician only once, which did not allow for a continuum of care, he said.
Partnering with Albany Medical Center provided a “solution” to the problem, Van Slyke said.
A declining birth rate in the Twin Counties contributed to the decision.
“We do approximately half as many births over the past 10 years at CMH,” said Dr. Clifford J. Belden, chief medical officer at Columbia Memorial Health. “The population is getting older and the birth rate in general in the United States is dropping, so there are fewer deliveries, which means when you bring on an obstetrician who wants to do a lot of deliveries, it is a less satisfying job.”
Ten years ago, Columbia Memorial Health handled around 600 births each year; in the past year that number dropped to fewer than 300.
At the present time, the hospital does, on average, fewer than one delivery a day; in a busy hospital, approximately six deliveries are done daily, Belden said.
Those numbers have made it difficult to recruit obstetricians, which are declining in number. The issue is even more challenging in rural areas with low populations to begin with.
The declining birth rate in the Twin Counties mirrors a national trend.
“The United States’ general fertility rate was 60.3 in 2017, down 3% from 2016,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Services for prenatal and postnatal care will not change, Belden said, only the site of the actual delivery. And if a pregnant woman goes into labor and needs immediate assistance, Columbia Memorial Health’s emergency room is equipped to provide care. Patients will be provided with information on what to do if they believe they are in an emergency situation, he said.
“We are very committed to continuing to provide care for pregnant women in our two counties,” Belden said. “Having a high-quality prenatal care program is very important, and embedded in that program will be information for pregnant women — when they are having a problem or a question, they will call our facility and they will be guided in what they need to do, whether they should come here or go to Albany Med, if they need to be assessed right away.”
Belden said a staff member will work with patients to offer tours of The Birth Place prior to going into labor so they can get familiar and comfortable with the facility.
“Many moms like to see the place and get the lay of the land so they feel comfortable, they know where parking is, they meet nurses and staff, and that is an important part of the process. About 70-80% of them want that,” Belden said. “We want them to feel comfortable throughout this entire process.”
No jobs will be lost as a result of the change, Belden said. Current staff will take on other roles in general gynecology or prenatal and postnatal responsibilities.
Albany Medical Center spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said the two hospitals working together will have a positive impact on local health care.
“This affiliation between Albany Med and Columbia Memorial was created to strengthen the region’s health care delivery system, to integrate community-based care with the highly specialized care from experts at Albany Med and to ensure that patients throughout the Hudson Valley have access to the most appropriate care in the setting that works best for their needs,” Gordon said.
Regarding health insurance, the two hospitals accept the same insurance plans, so Gordon said they do not anticipate any issues with patients having insurance complications.
The change will take effect in the fall.
“Sept. 30 will be the last day of deliveries at CMH, and births that take place Oct. 1 or later will be at Albany Med,” Belden said.