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Hospital might close maternity ward

With more than 64 percent of expectant mothers leaving West Pasco to give birth, North Bay Hospital reconsiders the need for its maternity unit.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Citing the dwindling number of mothers giving birth at its New Port Richey facility since a rival operation opened down the road, North Bay Hospital is considering closing the maternity ward.

William Jennings, the hospital administrator, said the matter was discussed last Thursday at a regular quarterly meeting between medical staff and administrators, though no action has been taken.

Jennings said about 750 mothers gave birth at North Bay's maternity ward in 1999, but the hospital expects only half of those deliveries this year. It has been facing competition from the Community Hospital of New Port Richey, which opened its own maternity ward several miles away last September.

Also, Jennings added, more than 64 percent of expectant mothers in West Pasco leave the county to give birth. "There isn't a definable community need (for North Bay's ward), and that is the foundation of our mission," Jennings said.

Jennings said North Bay's maternity ward loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, though he did not have a specific figure. He said the closing of the hospital's pediatrics unit, whose doctors cover the newborn nursery, has also been debated.

Jennings said the issues will now be discussed by the hospital's executive committee of doctors and its community board. North Bay has been a not-for-profit hospital since last year, when the Dunedin-based Morton Plant Mease Health Care Inc. bought it.

Jennings added: "There was the clear consensus of the medical staff members that they didn't look forward to the unit closing."

Physicians could not be reached for comment.

Ernie Meier, the chief executive officer of Community Hospital of New Port Richey, said his hospital would be able to accommodate the extra business if North Bay closed its maternity ward.

"If that were to happen, hopefully we could have a smooth transition for any of the women that were scheduled to deliver," Meier said.

Chris Hyers, spokesman for Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, questioned North Bay's motivations. He believes it goes beyond the purported lack of a community need for the maternity ward.

"To me, it's a mask for, "We're not making any money, so we want out of here,' " Hyers said. "One minute I'm reading a billboard that says they want to bring better health care to Pasco County, then they're retracting their service."

While Jennings said finances were one consideration being weighed, his foremost concern was meeting the needs of the community . Resources might be better devoted to cancer and heart care facilities, he said.


-- Staff writer Christopher Goffard can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is goffard@sptimes.com.

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