A St. Louis-area hospital will close its obstetrics and newborn nursery units and give its nearest rival $1.3 million in cash and equipment to help it handle the influx of expectant mothers.
Christian Hospital Northwest, Florissant, Mo., will stop delivering babies by July 31 and will transfer service to 450-bed DePaul Health Center, Bridgeton, Mo., according to a Northwest news release.
"The bottom line is, the patient volume in that service is down to one or two births a day," Communications Director Stephen Little said in an interview. "It's just too difficult to maintain a service like that with that small a patient volume."
The announcement marks the latest service cut in northern St. Louis County, an area known as North County. The cuts could continue with Northwest's 63 inpatient beds, which include a mental health unit. The space could be converted to outpatient services or torn down to make way for a smaller outpatient facility, with emergency and urgent care continuing in either case, Little said. Despite the fears of some community leaders, Little said there are no plans to close the facility and shift services to 425-bed Christian Hospital Northeast, also in North County. Both hospitals are part of not-for-profit, 12-hospital BJC HealthCare, St. Louis.
Other recent service cuts include dropping Northeast's trauma center certification in 1999 and the closing last year of 80-bed Normandy Community Hospital, St. Louis (April 24, 2000, p. 4).
Another service cut could come from DePaul, which is part of 19-hospital SSM Health Care, a Catholic system based in St. Louis. The doctors who work in DePaul's emergency department are demanding more compensation, and the hospital needs a reimbursement system that more equitably pays it for being the North County area's only trauma center, DePaul President Robert Porter said. The doctors threatened to quit the ER by the end of June, but they agreed to stay on while they and the hospital redoubled efforts to lobby state, county and local officials to find a financially fair solution, Porter said.
Northeast's downgrading of its trauma center puts tremendous pressure on DePaul's emergency department, bringing in more critically injured patients and more patients who either lacked insurance or were covered by Medicaid, Porter said. In addition to the reimbursement issues, the increase in volume and the more complex cases, which often take place in the middle of the night, are disrupting the office and elective-surgery portions of the doctors' practices, he said.
DePaul hopes to lure not only Northwest's obstetrics patients but also mothers who have been traveling to other St. Louis-area hospitals to give birth, Porter said. For years, DePaul delivered 800 to 1,000 babies annually, but this year, it's on track for about 1,200 deliveries. He expects 1,500 to 1,800 deliveries annually after Northwest stops the service.
Once Northwest made its plans known to DePaul officials, administrators at the two hospitals worked to minimize disruptions to patients, Porter said. Northwest will pay $900,000 for renovations that DePaul will need to serve the extra patients and will give DePaul $400,000 in obstetrics equipment.