At the end of February, SSM Health will close the Women’s and Children’s Services Department at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain.
The hospital said it was due to ongoing provider staffing challenges and consistently low patient volumes.
“I think it’s going to have a pretty good impact for a while,” Audrain Ambulance District Administrator Kevin Cash said.
Cash has worked for the ambulance district since 2009.
With the closure of the Women’s and Children’s Services Department at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain, he said there could be repercussions.
“There’s a chance we will be delivering more babies in the ambulance than we do now,” he said.
SSM Health said in a statement: “We have seen a consistent decline in the number of babies born at the hospital each year. St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain anticipates less than 200 total births in 2019, which isn’t enough to sustain a best practice full-service program.”
“With closing the OB and pediatrics, they’re not going to keep anything under 13 years old, so all those kids who come in from the ER will be transferred to Columbia if they need any further interventions,” Cash said.
It’s about a 70-mile round trip that would put a strain on the ambulance district.
“We work 48-hour shifts here, and we can do that because our run volume is low enough, 2700 calls a year, that we can be able to do that for our staff and they won’t get overworked,” he said. “Six to seven calls a day between three crews. But this is going to put on a lot more transfers throughout the year and at the times of the day, that’s where it gets stressful because at the middle of the night for down time, it’s going to hurt on them a little bit.”
Cash grew up in Mexico and said the hospital has always been such a big part of the community.
“My kids were born at this hospital; I was born at this hospital,” he said. “You definitely have to be worried. That’s 45 minutes drive time to get over to Columbia to Women’s and Children’s or Boone, wherever you’re going. You’ve gotta be worried.”
He said there are some bitter feelings about the closure.
“It’s going to hurt the community,” he said. “It feels like the community is getting slapped in the face a little bit. Just because SSM did not do what they promised when they came in.”
He warned pregnant women to not wait too long to get to the hospital when they’re in labor since it won’t be right around the corner anymore.
“It’s better to be a false alarm than wait too long and be halfway to Columbia and try to get an ambulance to you in the middle of the interstate,” he said.
SSM Health continually evaluates how to best meet the needs of our patients while ensuring the long-term sustainability of quality health care in the communities we serve. This has been an increasing challenge at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain where we have faced ongoing provider staffing challenges and consistently low patient volumes. We are losing two key providers next month – an OB/GYN and a pediatrician – who have been vital in providing these services in our community. Additionally, we will no longer have after-hours, weekend or holiday anesthesia coverage at the hospital after Feb. 28, 2019. Despite extensive efforts, we have been unable to recruit new providers to fill these needs. At the same time, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of babies born at the hospital each year. St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain anticipates less than 200 total births in 2019, which isn’t enough to sustain a best practice full-service program. As a result, we have determined it is necessary to close the Women’s and Children’s Services department at the hospital and the Women’s Health Clinic and Pediatrics Clinic, effective Feb. 28, 2019.
We are committed to fully supporting all impacted employees through this transition and will be working with each individual to identify other open positions within SSM Health. We will also be working to ensure continuity of care for our patients by helping them transition to another local provider of their choice.
While this decision was not made lightly, closing the Women’s and Children’s Services department will allow our ministry to focus on providing other vital services in this community, including: emergency services, primary care, outpatient services and our senior care unit for behavioral health.