Although Dimensions Healthcare System's planned ambulatory care center isn't expected to open until 2018, the owners of Laurel Regional Hospital announced that some departments will be shut down prior to the change, starting with Maternal & Child Health.
During a meeting Aug. 21 between management and staff, health care workers learned that the department’s closure would lead to the elimination of 32 labor and delivery nurse positions as well as six service and maintenance workers. Only six labor and delivery nurse positions will be retained; it is unclear how many for service and maintenance.
According to a letter to local officials from Laurel Regional CEO John Spearman, the unit will effectively close on Oct. 11.
“We regret that Maternal & Child Health at Laurel Regional Hospital is the first inpatient unit to close,” Spearman said. “However, we cannot ignore the difficult fact the among the hospital's many sources of financial drain, obstetrical services has been a persistent problem.”
Earlier this month, Dimensions Healthcare System announced it would replace Laurel Regional with a new, $24 million ambulatory care center by 2018. Seeking to curb multimillion-dollar losses at Laurel Regional, Dimensions plans to create a new facility with just 30 inpatient beds and limited hospital services.
By Oct. 7, maternity patients who go to the hospital will be assessed in the emergency room and then sent to Prince George's Hospital via EMS for further care. Maternity patients no longer will be accepted at Laurel Hospital beginning Oct. 9.
The Maryland Maternity Access Coalition, which unites citizens, organizations, and health care providers in Maryland to protect and preserve access to high-quality maternity care, continued to raise concerns Aug. 24 about the impending loss of a facility that serves hundreds of pregnant women in Prince George's County each year.
“With the closure of Laurel Regional Hospital’s maternity ward on Oct. 11, Prince George’s County will now have only one hospital that provides a full range of obstetrical health care services for women,” said coalition volunteer President Beth Laverick said in a statement. “The closure of Laurel Regional should be a wake-up call for the Maryland General Assembly to take action to address the problem before it gets worse. The legislature should move to implement a Birth Injury Fund and other common sense reforms to protect the financial viability of maternity services across Maryland.”
Overall, Laverick said, maternity wards have become “less financially viable” as a result of the state's litigious environment related to multimillion-dollar verdicts in birth injury cases.
“As maternity wards continue to lose money, it’s only a matter of time before hospitals decide to shed the service altogether,” she said. “Maryland is facing a looming maternity care crisis and seems to be repeating the mistakes of Philadelphia, where more than 13 hospitals closed their maternity wards over a decade and women now struggle to access care.”
Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said the closure of the unit is a “slap in the face to the entire community” to have changes of this magnitude take place without any input from residents and community leaders.
“How can you deny the citizens of Laurel and the Northern Prince George's County area a full-service hospital, and never ask for any input?,” Moe said. “To say this decision lacks transparency is a gross understatement, and we aren't going to just sit by and let it happen without having our say.”
Moe, the city council, and other local elected officials are urging residents to write letters to decision makers in the state, urging them to maintain Laurel Regional as a full-service hospital.