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A Lewiston hospital will end maternity care this summer as births drop

st. mary's.jfif
Josh Keefe
/
BDN
St. Mary's Regional Medical Center is pictured Oct. 3, 2019.

St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston announced Wednesday that it's closing its maternity services at the end of July due to declining birth rates. Officials say it was a difficult decision, but they believe patients will actually be served better.

Between 2016 and 2020, the birth rate in Maine dropped by 9%. The decline is being acutely felt by hospitals in Lewiston, according to St. Mary's officials. Years ago, they say, St. Mary's and Central Maine Medical Center would each regularly deliver 1,000 babies a year. Last year, the two hospitals delivered a combined total of 1,044 babies.

"It's more difficult to provide the level of care we're looking to provide. Especially in a town with two birthing facilities, we are kind of splitting that population," says Steve Jorgensen, president of St. Mary's.

That's why, he says, St. Mary's decided to end maternity services. Jorgensen says finances were not a factor, but the cost of providing maternity care has been cited as a reason by other hospitals both nationally and in Maine that have made similar decisions. And while the loss of maternity services typically leaves a gaping hole in care in the local community, St. Mary's obstetrician Dr. Maureen Perdue says that's not the case this time.

"This is overwhelmingly a positive thing for women in a health care climate that is struggling," she says.

Perdue says most providers from the St. Mary's Women's Health Center, including herself, will transition to work in maternity care at Central Maine Medical Center. Building that program, she says, will better support patients with increasingly complex issues, including chronic conditions, obesity and poverty.

"With Central Maine Medical Center's NICU, they have the potential to deliver 32 weeks gestation and up, so those who have higher-risk pregnancies or need to deliver prematurely are more apt to stay here in their hometown where their families are and are less likely to need to be going down to Portland, which is a struggle for the community from a transportation point when their babies have long neo-NICU stays," Perdue says.

St. Mary's Chief Medical Officer Doug Smith says consolidating maternity care will also alleviate health care staffing shortages. Central Maine Medical Center recently reopened its neonatal intensive care unit after it was closed for about six months due to lack of staff.

"I think each program on its own had its threats to be able to provide care long term, and this really solidifies that in a significant way," Smith says.

CMMC leaders released a statement Wednesday saying that the two hospitals have a unique opportunity to consolidate maternal care and create a single center of excellence, and preparations are underway to accommodate higher patient volume.

Jorgensen says St. Mary's will help patients transition to CMMC or their provider of choice. More than 50 staff work at the St. Mary's Women's Health Center, and he says the hospital is committed to retaining and retraining staff who decide to stay.