Declining birth rates locally, financial issues reasoning behind OB/GYN suspension at MRH
Memorial Regional Health will shut down its OB/GYN operations indefinitely Jan. 11 due to declining birth rates in Moffat County and financial challenges.
Patients will continue to be seen up until that date, which will allow MRH to transition those patients to care elsewhere, according to MRH CEO Andy Daniels.
The hospital made the surprise announcement late Tuesday, Dec. 10.
“The reality is our numbers are declining in OB/GYN services,” Daniels said. “It takes roughly 320 births annually to break even, and we’re just not coming close to that. It’s a very difficult clinic to staff 24/7, 365 with a surgical staff, seven RNs — roughly — to staff a department, especially when you’re doing just 120 deliveries a year. … That model just simply isn’t working, and regardless of where we are financially, that model was going to need to be addressed.”
Declining birth rates have been the standard across the United States over the last four years, hitting a 32-year low in 2018, according to NPR.
In 2018, Moffat County saw 120 births, a 22.5 percent decrease from the 155 babies delivered in 2017.
This year alone, that number is projected to sit right at 120 births.
The larger problem for MRH though was the overall decline in OB/GYN cases, which saw a 27.2 percent decline from 2017 to 2018. That number is projected to drop to 37.9 percent from 2018 to 2019.
Those numbers, along with some financial trouble within MRH, led to the decision to cut the OB/GYN clinic, leading to the dismissal of midwife Liz Sterling and provider Dr. Scott Ellis, who has delivered a large number of children in the area.
Ellis had his contract “terminated,” according to MRH. Ellis is on Family Medical Leave due to major surgery. The FMLA provides job-protected leave benefits. This generally means that when an employee qualifies for and takes FMLA leave, his or her job (or an equivalent) must be available to return to at the end of the leave period.
While there is that protection by law, there is a loophole. An employer can still terminate an employee, even while he or she is on leave or just returned, as long as the employer can show the reason for the termination was completely unrelated to the FMLA leave.
Per FLMA, the termination of an employee cannot be done for a retaliatory purpose, and it cannot be done with the intent of keeping others from taking such leave.
It’s a delicate situation that has to be handled carefully to avoid the perception that it is related to the FMLA leave, which is against the law.
According to a person close to Ellis, the doctor was let go without cause, was fired the night he returned from the hospital due to major surgery, and had his benefits pulled effective immediately. For now, Ellis awaits payment from his severance package and can apply from COBRA, which he’d have to pay for himself.
Sterling will still conduct patient visits through Jan. 11. She cannot deliver on her own, but she can use the help of locums to deliver babies.
After Jan. 11, emergency OB cases will be handled as regular ER cases.
“I don’t know what else I could have done,” Daniels said. “I feel awful that we have to interrupt this service line, and I feel bad for the people impacted, so we’re doing the best we can to transition to somewhere else.
“I acknowledge that the community is very upset, but we’re doing the best we can to recover as quick as we can,” Daniels said.