It's long past time for the state to step in:
The Quorum Health hospital announced in a press release earlier this month that it was discontinuing labor and delivery services effective Oct. 21 “to better meet the community’s long-term needs.” With birth centers at three Vidant facilities in a 35-mile radius — in Washington, Tarboro and Greenville — the hospital said, pregnant women in the region still have options.
An EMT by training, Bullock said it wasn’t that simple. Every minute matters in labor, she said, and longer trips to a hospital could pose risks to mothers and their babies. “Anything can happen in 35 minutes,” she added. “I mean, anything can happen in five minutes. It’s just like a blink of an eye and you can lose both lives.”
To say this is unsettling would be an understatement. There are already huge geographic gaps in maternity care in Rural NC, and economics has played a major role in that deterioration. There are 100 counties in our state, with only 80 maternity wards to serve them. And 50 of those wards are located in urban centers (mostly I-40/85 Corridor):
A FY2017 survey by the North Carolina Healthcare Association found the state had 30 rural facilities that offered maternal or neonatal care. By comparison, 50 urban hospitals across the state offered these services in 2017, the survey found.
At least three of the rural maternity service providers listed in that survey no longer exist. Two Mission Health units in western North Carolina shut their doors in 2017. And in January, Cape Fear Valley Health said it would not reopen its Bladen County birth center following extensive damage from Hurricane Florence.
When I say the state "needs to step in," I'm not talking about tightening regulations or throwing these hospitals some extra funding. The truth is, the "for-profit" model for healthcare facilities just doesn't work. And it's putting lives at risk. The government needs to start taking over these facilities in earnest, before some private board of directors decides to shut them down:
In his statement, Jacobson alluded to “limited resources,” but did not delve into the financial constraints and the role they played in the decision to discontinue maternity services at Martin General. A Medicaid cost report obtained from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services shows that the for-profit, 43-bed facility lost just over $3 million from May 2017 to April 2018.
Martin General’s parent company, Quorum Health, lost more than $200 million in 2018, according to its federal Securities and Exchange Commission filing. As of 2018, the most recent SEC filing said, Quorum had a debt of $1.2 billion.
The Brentwood, Tenn.-based organization, which operates 26 hospitals in 14 states, closed one hospital and sold 10 others since 2016, according to a March story in Becker’s Hospital Review. The same report also said that Quorum intended to sell some of its underperforming hospitals, reducing the number of health care facilities it owns to roughly 20.
And before you say it, no, I don't think we can trust each county to manage their own hospitals. They will end up selling it back into the private sector, and the circus will start all over again.