BRADFORD, PA – Citing declining birth rates and physician coverage and recruitment issues, Bradford Regional Medical Center (BRMC) announced on July 26 that it will consolidate its maternity services program via a regional model with its Upper Allegheny Health System (UAHS) partner hospital, Olean General Hospital (OGH).
As part of the plan, labor and delivery (obstetrics) will consolidate to OGH in October 2019, while the remaining aspects of the BRMC’s Women’s Health Services program will be expanded and enhanced. Prenatal care and postnatal care - medical services provided in the months leading up to birth and immediately afterward - will continue to be provided at BRMC at its Women’s Health Services office. Gynecological surgery, ancillary services and a full time OB/GYN physician office – will remain in Bradford. In addition, enabled by UAHS’s affiliation with Kaleida Health, Oishei Children’s Hospital, a Kaleida Health facility and regional perinatal center is partnering with BRMC to enhance care in the community by offering specialty pediatric clinics in Bradford.
BRMC will lose the services of its two current obstetricians by virtue of their retirements as of October 2019. However, Theresa McClain, DO, OB/GYN, has been hired by Universal Primary Care (UPC) and will see OB/GYN patients on a full time basis at BRMC’s Women’s Health Services office in Bradford. McClain will manage OB patients and do gynecological surgery in Bradford while deliveries will occur at OGH.
Judi Scott, RN, director of Women’s Health Services at BRMC, has been named UAHS Director of Women’s Health Services at BRMC and OGH and will oversee Women’s Health Services at both facilities under the consolidated regional model. A resident of Bradford, Scott has been a BRMC employee for 35 years and has overseen Women’s Health Services for eight years at BRMC.
Consistent with the declining national birthrate, which is currently at its lowest level in 30 years, BRMC has seen a continual decline in births from 325 births in 2009 to 179 in 2018, which is fewer than one obstetrical delivery every two days. Additionally, the population of McKean County continues to decline, from 45,963 in 2000 to 40,450 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the number of women of childbearing age has declined by more than 15 percent in the county since 2009. The declining birth rate and the region’s small population makes recruiting obstetricians very difficult. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cites a current national shortage of approximately 8,800 obstetricians and gynecologists and the shortage is predicted to significantly increase into the future. Absent a cadre of obstetricians/gynecologists, it is not possible to provide 24/7/365 coverage for the hospital’s maternity unit.
Like BRMC, OGH is an Upper Allegheny Health System member hospital and a Kaleida Health affiliate. OGH is located 23 miles from BRMC, delivers more than 650 babies each year and has 12 obstetrical providers on staff. Each year approximately 75 to 80 women from McKean County already deliver their babies at Olean General Hospital.
“The board of directors understands that transitions like these are difficult,” said Brenda McGee, UAHS board chair, “but we are confident that the BRMC Women’s Health Services program will continue to provide excellent care to the Bradford population. We remain committed the community for the long term,” she said.
BRMC joins a large number of other community hospitals that have closed or consolidated their obstetrical programs in recent years. Recently, both Uniontown Hospital (800 births) in Uniontown, Pa., and Eastern Niagara Hospital System (320 births), Lockport, NY, announced closures of their obstetrics units. This past week, Columbia Memorial Health in Hudson, NY, (less than 300 births) announced it would consolidate its OB services with Albany Medical Center effective October 1 due to declining births and lack of obstetricians. Additional Western Pennsylvania hospital obstetric unit closures have included Elwood City Hospital, Jameson Hospital in New Castle, Monongahela Valley Hospital in Washington County and the old Frick Hospital – now Excela Health Frick Hospital – in Mount Pleasant.
“The consolidation of maternity services to OGH has been precipitated by a series of issues and market forces beyond our control that include a decreasing birth rate and significant difficulty and challenges in recruiting obstetricians. BRMC services provided for prenatal and postnatal care will not change. Neither will gynecological surgical services or ancillary testing; only the site of the actual delivery will change. And if a pregnant woman goes into labor and needs immediate assistance, BRMC’s ER is equipped to provide care,” said Timothy Finan, president and CEO of Upper Allegheny Health System, Bradford Regional Medical Center and Olean General Hospital.
“We remain very committed to providing the best possible care for women in the community and we are pleased and fortunate that, partnering with UPC, we were successful in recruiting a new obstetrician/gynecologist physician for the Bradford community who will operate a full time practice here, starting later this fall,” Finan said.
“The consolidation and closure of OB programs in rural hospitals has been a repeating story across the nation, including Pennsylvania, for more than a decade,” Finan said. According to government reports, U.S. birth rates have reached record lows resulting in four straight years of birth declines and the fewest number of births in 32 years across the nation. “In Pennsylvania 144 hospitals had obstetrics units in 2000 and by 2017 only 96 Pennsylvania hospitals had obstetrics units, a reduction of 33 percent. Of these closures, half (25) were in Western Pennsylvania,” he added.
“There simply are not enough deliveries in the Bradford region to assure a viable program. Again, it’s not the fault of BRMC but rather the reality of falling birth rates and a decreasing hospital service area population, especially with respect to women of child bearing age. Additionally, the physician retirements create a significant challenge. While we are pleased to have a new OB/GYN provider for Bradford, one physician alone cannot provide the 24/7/365 maternity coverage that a maternity unit needs and demands. Until recently, we had three obstetricians who could provide coverage but will shortly be down to one given the recently recruited obstetrician,” Finan said.
Finan said health insurance coverage is not an issue for patients coming to OGH from Pennsylvania, saying that both OGH and BRMC accept the same insurance plans, including Pennsylvania Medicaid programs. He noted that OGH already cares for many Pennsylvania residents, including maternity patients.
The consolidation of obstetrics to Olean General Hospital is expected to impact 19 employees at BRMC. Affected staff will be provided the opportunity to assume other appropriate positions at either BRMC or OGH.