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Elyria moms, officials fight to keep birthing center in Lorain County

Posted at 5:25 PM, Aug 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-05 19:53:09-04

ELYRIA, Ohio — Families in Elyria are fighting to keep their birthing center close to home. University Hospitals recently announced it’s moving labor and delivery services at UH Elyria Medical Center to UH St. John Medical Center in Westlake - nearly a half an hour away.

Some moms and city leaders are worried, but UH said it might be a healthy move for moms and babies.

In a statement to News 5, UH said deliveries have declined 37% during the past decade at UH Elyria and say they can better deliver care with the merge. However, the moms News 5 spoke with say there’s still a huge need for the birthing center to stay in Elyria.

Morgan Wachholz has nothing but positive memories to share about her delivery experience at UH Elyria. Her youngest daughter, Joanna, was born there two years ago.

“They were there right away. They were here checking on you. The lactation specialists that you're going to use throughout your whole parenthood are right here. They're the people that meet you the second that your baby is born,” Wachholz, of Amherst, said.

She said it's more than just a hospital unit.

“It was more of a family and community kind of thing where they were there with you to support you,” Wachholz said.

So when she saw UH’s announcement last week, she got online and started a petition which has quickly gained nearly 5,000 signatures, including Jessica Stokely's, whose seven of her kids were born at UH Elyria.

“For me it's personal. You know, I've had my children here, and the stories that I can tell them the impact from the nurses and their participation in delivering my children,” Stokely said. “The nurses know who you are, you know, they become part of your lives, and part of your story as well, you know. And down the line I can look back and be able to tell my oldest, my 16 year old, this is where you were born, and this is how he was treated and how he was cared for. You may not always remember their names, but you will always remember how they made you feel.”

Hannah Barkhurst also signed the petition. Her two daughters were born at UH Elyria.

“I was born here as well as my brother. Both of my parents were born here, and some of my grandparents were also born here. So, we've had many generations that have been born here in this hospital,” Barkhurst, of Elyria, said.

She said she’s concerned about what the closure means for moms in Lorain County who will have to travel even farther to deliver safely.

“With my second she came so fast that had I had to travel any farther than I did, we may not have made it to the hospital before she came,” Barkhurst said. “There are not a ton of options for places to have a baby and having to travel out of the county, and at least 25 to 30 minutes away would definitely be big in that decision making.”

Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield spoke with UH’s CEO, Tom Zenty, Wednesday about saving the delivery unit and the other services that might be on the chopping block. He held a joint press conference with Dr. Rima Bachuwa, the chief of OB/GYN at UH Elyria, Lorain County Public Health Commissioner Dave Covell, and Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley Wednesday afternoon, where he said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the future.

“I’m optimistic that they're willing to engage and have conversations. The cautiousness is that it definitely seems like this decision has been made and they're gonna stick with it,” Whitfield said. “And flipping back to the optimism, again we said well how do you make sure that this isn't a pattern? That you're not signaling to this community that this is just a continuation and eventually we'll be having another dialogue like this about more services being lost? And the optimism was they gave the verbal commitment that no, we’re going to prove to you that University Hospitals is committed to the city of Elyria."

Whitfield said he and other local and county officials have met with UH four times since last Monday and that there will likely be more meetings to come.

In a statement to News 5, UH said its committed to continuing dialogue with the community about services they provide at UH Elyria and in Lorain County:

We know there are understandable concerns among people in the Elyria community. UH is dedicated to ensuring that mothers deliver in a safe environment surrounded by a dedicated staff of providers. We are consolidating and enhancing labor in our West Side communities, while continuing and expanding pre- and post-natal services and women’s health services in Elyria.

The number of women delivering at UH Elyria has been declining from over 1000 deliveries in 2009 to a total of 279 deliveries in the first six months of 2020. We can better deliver this care by moving the services of our two great birth centers on the West side into one facility. Although the birth center at UH Elyria will close later this year, its long legacy will continue at UH St. John Medical Center located approximately 20 minutes from the campus of UH Elyria.

Pregnancy is a continuum of care, beginning at the pre-conceptual visit through 12-weeks postpartum. All of that care will continue to be provided in Elyria. The delivery itself will occur at UH St. John Medical Center with UH Elyria providers on call there.

UH has pledged to work with community leaders and residents on services aligned to their evolving health care needs. UH CEO Tom Zenty and other UH leaders met with the mayor of Elyria this morning for a listening session to hear the community’s perspective on the issues. UH is committed to continue dialogue with the community around the services we offer at UH Elyria and in Lorain County.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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