The Mission Statement for Sitka Community Hospital is posted in its clinic’s waiting room. Hospital managers want to cut the hospital’s obstetrics unit and reduce surgical options. Several residents told the hospital board Monday (7-11-17) that childbirth services should remain. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Several local mothers told officials Monday to continue labor and delivery services at Sitka Community Hospital. Following a consultant’s study, managers recommended shutting down the obstetrics unit, as well as round-the-clock surgical care.

This fiscal year’s budget for the municipal hospital calls for an end to delivering babies and 24/7 surgeries by Sept. 30. Officials say any such change won’t happen that soon.

It’s part of a larger effort to survive as medical practices change and competition from the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s Mount Edgecumbe Hospital increases.

Officials and community members presented several options during a hospital board work session.

Sitka Community’s Dr. Roger Golub said if labor and delivery closes, pregnant moms won’t have to leave town.

“SEARHC can handle this. They do it all the time, as well. So, it’s not a matter of losing anything in Sitka if we don’t,” he said.

Officials said closing the unit would allow round-the-clock surgery to be scaled back.  They said both changes would save money and free up space for other needed services.

Several mothers of young children disagreed. They said most families want continuity of care, from the first prenatal visit through childhood.

Camilla Pfeiffer said closing the unit would drive away patients.

“If someone decides to go to SEARHC to have their baby, because they can’t have it at Sitka Community, they’re going to take their whole family there. The labs you have to get done, the X-rays you have to get done, ultrasounds, all the post-partum well-child checks, you’re not going to want to switch back and forth,” she said.

The board heard about several options, including creating a midwife-led birth center that would only handle low-risk deliveries. Plans also included replacing more costly and hard-to-fill positions with specially trained nurses.

Tamara Kyle testified while holding her baby.

“The biggest stress of my pregnancy was deciding where and how to have my baby because I wanted a midwife and I wanted natural care and I wanted no interventions unless necessary. And that wasn’t an option,” she said.

Allycia Witherspoon, also holding her infant, liked several possibilities that were under discussion.

“I think the midwife model is great. I think the certified nurse model is great. I think the way it is now is great. I just think it should continue,” she said.

Community members have told officials about other services they want expanded or added as the hospital plans for its future. Ideas discussed at the meeting included different surgical specialties and expanded long-term care.

But hospital board member Connie Sipe said people need to rein in their expectations.

“It reminds me of discussions about the permanent fund. I’ve spent 40 years here hearing people say, ‘Well, if this state can give every man woman and child $1,800 a year, then there’s enough money to fix my road or my school.’ We can’t do everything people are talking about because of the limits, literally, even of our physical space,” she said.

Hospital board members will continue their discussion at their regular meeting later this month. Whatever they decide will mean changes to their budget, which could require assembly approval.

Hospital CEO Rob Allen said if services change or end, it will be done over several months, not at the end of this month.