Warren Memorial’s obstetric services may close in May

More than half of all counties in Virginia and West Virginia have no hospitals offering obstetrics services. Most counties without obstetrics services are in rural areas.

Valley Health is likely going to stop offering obstetric services at Warren Memorial Hospital earlier than anticipated.

In a post on Facebook, the hospital announced that it would likely close obstetric services at the hospital in May. Valley Health had previously announced it would not offer obstetric services at the new Warren Memorial Hospital but would continue offering the services while the new facility was being built.

“While Warren Memorial Hospital intended to keep this unit open during construction, the timeline will likely need to be accelerated as our well-trained labor and delivery nurses consider their next lives and transition plans,” the release states.

In an email, Carol Weare, a public relations manager for Valley Health, stated that “the shift in timing was an unexpected development, with a number of still-moving parts.”

She did not elaborate further, and Valley Health has not responded to requests for comment.

Valley Health’s decision comes at a time when rural hospitals across the country are cutting off obstetric services, largely as a cost-saving measure.

Peiyin Hung, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University who has researched the decline in obstetric services in rural counties, said that change has widened a disparity in pregnancy care between women living in rural areas and women living in more urban areas.

In a recent article in the Journal of Perinatology, Hung found that women in rural areas often have to travel much farther distances than women in urban areas in order to get to a hospital with an obstetrics unit — and that the disparity is getting worse. And those additional driving times can affect the outcomes of pregnant women and their babies, Hung said.

“Based on the literature, we know traveling longer distances to receiving hospital obstetric care may be related to higher pre-term birth (and) may be related to infant mortality,” Hung said.

In some cases, the pregnant women may even die because their travel distances prevent them from seeking out prenatal care, Hung said.

Consolidated hospital systems like Valley Health, Hung said, are particularly likely to cut obstetric services from some of their hospitals because obstetric units are expensive to maintain and hospital systems can direct people to a particular facility. But doing so can leave some patients with long travel times to hospitals.

The removal of obstetric services may further limit the access that people in Shenandoah County and Warren County have to obstetric services. In its most recent required annual return to the Internal Revenue Service, Valley Health cited the need for access to obstetric services in Shenandoah County, but noted that patients could go to Warren Memorial Hospital for obstetric services.

But Valley Health officials have previously said that the loss of obstetric units would not harm women’s access to care in the region. The officials particularly noted that the maternal and neonatal services at Winchester Medical Center are more extensive than those in Warren County.

In Facebook post, Warren Memorial Hospital stated that “significant investments have been made in maternal and infant care” at Winchester Medical Center.

“We regret that the closure of the Labor and Delivery unit may happen sooner than we had intended; however, Valley Health is committed to providing each of our patients the highest quality care in a safe environment,” the post states. “This has been, and continues to be, Valley Health’s top priority for our physicians and nurses.”