Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Demopolis Hospital to Close Baby Delivery Unit

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Demopolis Hospital to Close Baby Delivery Unit

Article excerpt

For more than 50 years, babies have been born at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis, but the hospital will close its labor and delivery unit Feb. 28.

The closure means that expectant mothers in Demopolis, the largest city in Marengo County, will have to travel an hour or longer to deliver either at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Vaughn Regional Medical Center in Selma, or Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian, Miss.

The hospital doesn't have enough nurses to staff the unit, as mandated by liability insurance, said Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson.

The mayor said that other factors in the decision to close were that too few babies are being born in Demopolis and a high percentage of those babies belong to parents in poverty whose expenses are covered by the federal Medicaid program.

"These are some really tricky times to be in health care and health-care management," Grayson said. "For our part of the world, as in most of rural Alabama, you've got a stagnant, if not declining, overall population. The birth rate is declining and in our part of the world, we have a very high number of Medicaid patients, which plays into what facilities are paid."

In January, the hospital announced plans to close the labor and delivery unit by late March. But after that announcement, three of the unit's six nurses found jobs elsewhere and too few nurses would remain to keep the unit open next month, Grayson said.

From a business standpoint, it made no sense to keep the unit open, Grayson said.

But the labor and delivery unit is important to the people of Demopolis, he said.

"We are rural, and we realize that there will be a burden on expectant mothers if they do have to travel," said Demopolis City Council member Bill Meador Jr. "A number of people are already going that route by choice."

About 250 to 300 babies are born each year at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis, less than one a day. The Demopolis Times reported that of the 20 expectant moms scheduled to deliver in March, 19 are covered by Medicaid.

But having a local hospital that can deliver babies is important, Meador said.

"Our hospital is awfully important to us down here; we do recognize that," Meador said. …

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