Maryland Maternity Access Coalition express concern for Laurel Regional maternity patients

When the board of Dimensions Healthcare System, owners of Laurel Regional Hospital, announced the closure of Laurel Regional on July 31, Maryland Maternity Access Coalition members were quick to voice their concerns about the elimination of the facility's maternity ward.

Following a vote, Dimensions stated plans to replace Laurel Regional with a new, $24 million ambulatory care center by 2018, resulting in limited hospital services, including an emergency room; outpatient surgery suites; diagnostic, imaging and radiology services; and preventive care services. With only 30 inpatient beds, the change is an effort to curb the multi-million dollar losses Laurel Regional has seen in recent years.

The Maryland Maternity Access Coalition unites citizens, organizations, and healthcare providers to protect and preserve access to high-quality maternity care for the women of Maryland.

On Aug. 3, the coalition stated the hospital's transition to an outpatient facility will greatly affect the approximate 1,000 pregnant women it currently serves in Prince George's County each year.

"With the closure of Laurel Regional Hospital's maternity ward, Prince George's County - a county with a population of nearly one million people - will now have only one hospital that provides a full-range of obstetrical healthcare services for women," coalition Volunteer President Beth Laverick said in a statement. "This is a very concerning development coming on the heels of the mid-2013 closure of Maryland General Hospital's maternity ward in Baltimore."

Due to Maryland's "worsening litigation environment" in relation to multimillion-dollar mega-verdicts in birth injury cases, Laverick said, hospital maternity wards are becoming less financially viable. Over the last decade, more than 13 hospitals closed their maternity wards in Philadelphia alone.

"As maternity wards continue to lose money, it's only a matter of time before hospitals decide to shed the service altogether, as has happened in Baltimore in 2013 and now in Prince George's County," she said. "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."

John Spearman, president of Laurel Regional, said the yearly maternity patient numbers were closer to 800 and 900 in Prince George's County and that the new facility will be working with "a variety of partners before we get to the ambulatory care center and try to ensure as much as possible."

"We do believe that he larger problem that the access coalition is speaking to is a really issue," Spearman said. "I think where they talk about the litigation environment and how that impacts the financial viability of hospitals is the exact kind of situation that we're facing here."

Laverick said reforms, such as a Birth Injury Fund to reduce medical liability risk in the field of obstetrics to safeguard women's access to maternity care, should be pushed forward in the legislature to protect the financial viability of maternity services.

For more information on the Maryland Maternity Access Coalition, go to www.mdmaternityaccess.org.

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