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Posted May 19, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Hospital to shut down birthing unit

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After July 1, patients will be redirected to Warren facility

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- The need to care for a growing number of older patients is pushing newborn babies out of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.

After nearly 60 years of bringing babies into the world, the hospital will shut down its birthing center at the end of June. Starting July 1, the hospital will steer expectant mothers to the Women's Care Center at Warren Memorial Hospital, SMH President Floyd Heater said Monday.

Prenatal and gynecological care will still be provided by Shenandoah Women's Care, which is connected to the hospital. The practice's doctors will deliver babies at Warren Memorial Hospital, Heater said.

"It definitely is a capacity issue," he said.

As one of roughly 1,300 critical-access care hospitals serving mostly small rural communities across the U.S., SMH is federally limited to 25 inpatient beds, Heater said.

"During periods of high demand, the hospital has reached capacity numerous times and been forced to transfer patients to other facilities," a news release from SMH says. "However, closing the Family Birthing Center will allow the hospital greater capacity to care for adult patients."

It says more beds are needed for the increased number of older patients in Shenandoah County, about 20 percent of which is made up of those over age 65.

Last year, 285 babies were delivered at SMH, the release says. About an equal number of babies were born at Warren Memorial Hospital, according to an e-mail Heater sent to Valley Health employees on Monday.

It says that the birthing center in Woodstock "has run at an operating deficit since its inception," and consolidating the maternity units of both hospitals will be more cost-effective.

Heater said that the birthing center was opened in 1994, although the hospital has been delivering babies since 1951.

SMH's board of directors has been considering the closure since the beginning of the year, he said.

"I do suspect a few patients will elect to go to Winchester [Medical Center]," Heater said. "[However], most patients do follow where their obstetrician will practice. There will be some that have transportation problems that live locally, and we will do our best to try and help them out."

Eleven nurses will be affected by the closure, he said, and Valley Health will try to find them new positions.

Heater said it has not been determined what will go in the space occupied by the birthing center.

"It does open up a lot of possibilities for us," he said. "We have a master facility plan that is really going under revision right now. We would like a better intensive care unit."

The current ICU is cramped, Heater said.

The radiology, cardiopulmonary and diagnostic services also need to be upgraded, according to Heater.

"Of course, not too far down the line, we will have to address the need to modernize our emergency/urgent care services," his e-mail says.

Letters will be sent to Shenandoah Women's Care's pregnant patients informing them of the birthing center's closure and encouraging them to have their babies in Front Royal, Heater's e-mail says.

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