Health

Marshalltown UnityPoint to close OB unit, women's health clinic

Decision marks third major service cut at hospital in a year

Hayden Wegner sleeps in her mother’s arms at the home she shares with her husband, Tanner Wenger, in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Cailee Wegner traveled to Iowa City for her obstetrics appointments during her pregnancy after Washington’s local hospital closed its OB unit. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Hayden Wegner sleeps in her mother’s arms at the home she shares with her husband, Tanner Wenger, in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Cailee Wegner traveled to Iowa City for her obstetrics appointments during her pregnancy after Washington’s local hospital closed its OB unit. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The obstetrics unit and Women’s Health Clinic at UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown will close Sept. 30 because of a decrease in births, officials announced Monday.

“There simply aren’t enough women choosing to deliver locally,” said Jennifer Friedly, UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown president. “This is a problem that has been going on for a long time . There are enough women becoming pregnant, but they are going elsewhere to deliver.”

She said the hospital had relied upon the recommendations of three nationally known health care consultants to assess data around services that are needed and supported.

Red dots are where OB units have closed since 2000

“When it came down to it, our consultants said (obstetrics) was a service the community cannot support,” Friedly said.

She also cited the inability to attract a second obstetrician as a significant factor in the closure.

“It is difficult for one provider to be on-call all of the time,” Friedly said.

She said 32 jobs will be affected by the decision, but efforts are being made to place those employees within the organization or at other UnityPoint facilities.

Staff were informed of the decision Friday.

Over the past six years there has been a 45 percent decrease in the number of births at the OB unit, officials said, and in March the hospital recorded the lowest number of deliveries, 18, in its history.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s clear OB/GYN patients are already selecting Ames and Des Moines for their care,” a news release from UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown said.

Emergency room doctors are trained to care for women and infants in emergency situations, including labor and delivery, officials said.

Volunteer board President Lance Horbach said the decision to close the clinic and obstetrics unit was “a tough one.”

“All of my children were born there as well as all my grandchildren,” Horbach said.

“However, after Jenni (Friedly) reviewed the three consultant’s reports with us, we decided to vote for closure. It is important we keep the hospital viable and focus on our strengths what our clients will use and support.”

Rising costs, declining births

Marshalltown is the latest in the ongoing trend of declining maternity services in Iowa’s hospitals due challenges facing the state’s smallest facilities, including a workforce shortage, rising costs and declining patient populations.

Thirty-three of Iowa’s 118 community hospitals have closed their birthing units since 2000, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

In 2018 alone, seven smaller community services suspended their obstetrics services, including Washington County Hospital and Clinics in Eastern Iowa.

The Washington hospital closed its obstetrics unit on June 1, 2018, citing declining births and rising costs.

Washington County assisted in an average 130 births a year, but costs rose 41 percent over a five-year period, hospital officials said at the time of the announcement.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Sixty-four Iowa hospitals continue to provide delivery services, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Monday’s announcement marks another closure of a longtime health care service provided in Marshalltown.

In June 2018 UnityPoint Health announced the closure of its Marshalltown catheterization lab and in November 2018 announced its Intensive Care Unit would close.

However, hospital officials said in November that, despite the closures, the facility remained a full-service hospital and staff would focus on providing emergency department care, obstetrics and other services.

A commitment to obstetrics also was in evidence in February of this year, when the UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown Foundation announced a fundraising campaign to purchase equipment for the Birthing Center.

“Providing a safe and welcoming environment for birthing is one of the most important services a hospital offers,” foundation board member and past president Kathy McCune said then.

On Monday, Friedly said the obstetrics/Women’s Care Center closing would be the last and final service that will be closing for the foreseeable future.

“We will continue to provide women’s and pediatrics services at our outpatient clinics in Conrad, Marshalltown, State Center and Tama-Toledo,” Friedly said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Marshall County Public Health Nurse Pat Thompson said she did not know at this time how many residents might be affected by the closures.

UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown purchased Central Iowa Healthcare in 2017 following bankruptcy proceedings.

Gazette reporter Michaela Ramm contributed to this article.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.