Barely 18 months after ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a $500,000 nursery expansion, Windber Medical Center is dropping its maternity program.
“It is with heavy hearts that we inform the community that Windber Medical Center will be discontinuing its obstetric services,” Judge David Klementik, board chairman, said Tuesday in a news release.
Plans were finalized at the Jan. 9 hospital board meeting to shutter the program March 31, the hospital announced.
The difficult decision was prompted by unexpected news that two doctors were leaving the area and the remaining two obstetrician-gynecologists were shifting focus, hospital President and CEO Barbara Cliff said.
After the death of well-known obstetrician Roger Morrell in April, longtime Johnstown area baby doctors Amy Anderson and Pradeep Kulkarni made it known they would be shifting to an expanded gynecology practice when their contracts expire later this year.
Even as hospital leaders were evaluating options for a two-doctor obstetrics program, the remaining two obstetricians, Drs. William Walker and Canan Shain-Kandemir, announced they were leaving the area.
“All of a sudden, we were faced with the loss of four obstetricians,” Cliff said.
“We did an evaluation of what the options were, knowing that recruiting new obstetricians could be very difficult, expensive and time consuming. And we might not be successful.”
Even if new doctors were brought to Windber, local patients might not accept the change, she added, noting that the population has declined, especially in the child-bearing age bracket.
“The board came to the difficult conclusion that we would discontinue our obstetrics program,” Cliff said.
The newly renovated nursery area will be reworked into part of the hospital’s growing surgical program, which will include additional procedures through Anderson’s and Kulkarni’s expanded gynecology program. Nurse practitioner Lisa Drenning will continue with the program.
“We intend to create a very comprehensive women’s health care service,” Cliff said.
It is too early to say how many jobs will be lost in the transition, Cliff said, adding that the hospital will help affected workers prepare for new positions as they become available.
“We touched base with every single one of those employees to make sure they are aware of what we are planning,” Cliff said.
“It was not happening to them. It was happening with them.”
Hospital representatives are also working with expectant mothers to connect with other hospitals if their babies are due near or after April 1.
Cliff stressed that the end of the obstetrics program was not anticipated when the nursery upgrade was completed in July 2011.
“We were very, very committed to continuing an obstetrics program,” she said.
The hospital continued to welcome more than 200 babies each year since the program was restarted in 2005. But the volume is not high enough to be profitable, especially with reduced reimbursement rates anticipated as the federal Affordable Health Care for America Law rolls out, Cliff said.
Dropping the baby business does not signal a larger scaling back of hospital operations, she added.
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