Providence to cease baby deliveries at Petaluma Valley Hospital as of May 1
Providence announced Tuesday that it will cease delivering babies at the popular Petaluma Valley Hospital birth center on May 1.
In a statement, the health care giant said it would initiate an “interruption” in obstetrics services because the hospital’s Family Birth Center did not have the necessary staffing and resources to continue functioning safely.
Providence said efforts to permanently secure obstetrics anesthesia and recruit physicians were unsuccessful.
Supporters of the birth center said Tuesday that the move effectively amounts to closure of the facility. Providence purchased the hospital from the Petaluma Valley Healthcare District in 2021.
One of the terms of the sale was that Providence would continue operating the maternity ward until at least 2025.
“Unfortunately, I feel like there's a lot of us who are focused on health and some of us — being the health care provider — more focused on the health of their bottom line,” said Elece Hempel, health care district board secretary.
Providence first proposed closing the facility late last year, when it claimed that it was having trouble securing anesthesia coverage and recruiting staff for the facility. Supporters of the birth center, including local gynecologists and obstetrics nurses strongly opposed the move, arguing it would create a “maternity desert” that spanned 41 miles between Marin County and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
On Wednesday, Providence released a statement saying it continues to regularly meet with the health care district to provide updates on the service interruption and “how we can collectively ensure” safe obstetrics care is provided locally.
“The facts have not changed,” the statement said. “Due to no permanent OB anesthesia services and on-call OB physicians, as of May 1, 2023, it is not safe to keep the Family Birthing Center open at Petaluma Valley Hospital.”
Providence said announcing the service interruption now allows medical staff and the public have time to adjust to seek care at alternate facilities. “PVH will continue to provide emergency OB services to those who present to the emergency department,” Providence said.
Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer at Petaluma Health Center, said medical staff their are already making alternate plans. Physicians at Petaluma Health Center deliver 70% of the births at the hospital’s maternity ward, he added.
“We are moving all our births to (Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital) for now, given the short notice,” Toledo said. Providence also runs Memorial Hospital.
At a district meeting Feb. 15, district members and birth center supporters strongly opposed any closure or interruption of services. Since Providence announced its intent to close the birthing ward, the district has repeatedly insisted that the hospital operator was legally bound to keep it open.
During that meeting, Hempel stated, “Coming in and saying on this day this system is closing is a violation of the contract. If you read the details of the contract, a violation of that contract means that hospital comes back to the district.”
On Tuesday, Hempel’s stance was more sober. She said hiring lawyers to force Providence to keep the facility open would “eat away” at the $53 million the district acquired from the sale of the hospital.
Ramona Faith, CEO of the district, said interrupting birthing services at the hospital threatens the viability of the ward. Faith said the district expects Providence to continue looking for physician and anesthesia coverage for obstetrics services.
“That said, it is very difficult to reopen a unit once staff seek other positions because they have been informed the unit they work on is in jeopardy of closing,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @pressreno.