MONROE — Valley General Hospital will close its birthing unit June 24, meaning a longer drive to other hospitals for women who planned to deliver their baby close to home.
“It’s probably the most uncomfortable thing I’ve had to do in 30 years of health care,” said Mike Liepman, the hospital’s chief executive. “It’s a service we love to have and provide.”
The two closest hospitals where women in southeast Snohomish County can give birth are Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland.
It is one of two steps the hospital is taking to try to stem its tide of red ink. It also plans to close its in-patient psychiatric unit at the end of the month, Liepman said.
Approximately 70 women had planned on having their baby at the hospital between now and the end of the year, he said. With 10 to 15 deliveries expected before the unit closes, about 55 women will have to find an alternative hospital to deliver their baby.
The hospital had been losing about $157,000 a month on the birthing unit, or nearly $1.9 million a year, he said.
Part of those costs was having a physician under contract to provide birth and delivery services after the departure of two obstetricians from the community last year.
Only about 11 percent of pregnant women in east Snohomish County choose to deliver their babies at Valley General — 10 to 15 births a month, he said.
“If we’re running at 10 to 11 percent market share, it’s hard to justify that kind of expense to keep the program going,” Liepman said.
The baby unit’s 18 employees were told of the pending closure of the baby unit last week. Some of the employees have worked at the hospital 20 years or more, he said.
The hospital has been struggling financially, recording four consecutive years of financial losses, including about $3 million in losses last year. During the first five months of this year, the hospital estimates losses of $1.8 million out of a $56 million operating budget, he said.
It’s too early to know how many birthing unit employees may take jobs elsewhere in the hospital and how many will be laid off, Liepman said.
Existing union contracts give employees with seniority priority in keeping their jobs.
Liepman said he hopes the closure of the baby unit will be temporary. The hospital is now in talks with Providence on developing a business partnership. Either this or other proposals could bring the service back, he said.
That said, currently there are no firm plans in the works that could allow the birthing unit to reopen.
The hospital also is closing its 14-bed, in-patient psychiatric unit. It typically has four to five patients a day. “I don’t know of any other hospitals this size that tries to run a psychiatric program,” Liepman said.
The only other hospital in Snohomish County with an in-patient psychiatric unit is Swedish/Edmonds, which has a 23-bed unit.
The closure of Monroe’s in-patient psychiatric unit will save the hospital about $20,000 a month, Liepman said.
It has contacted mental health organizations to see if any of them would be willing to operate the unit on a contract basis.
Twelve full- and part-time employees work in the psychiatric unit. Between the psychiatric and birthing units, the hospital is losing the equivalent of 15 full-time employees, he said.
In April, the equivalent of 22 full-time employees were cut.
That leaves the hospital with the equivalent 280 full-time employees.
Despite the cuts, there are no plans to close the hospital, Liepman said.
One of the reasons the hospital announced earlier this year that it was seeking business partnerships with other health care organization is “to maintain this hospital here,” he said.
“The intent is to develop strong medical, surgical, emergency room and imaging programs, all the things that are the strength of the hospital,” Liepman added.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or email@example.com