Nurses Concerned With Decision to Close Tobey Hospital’s Maternity Unit

Tobey Hospital in Wareham.

WAREHAM – The Massachusetts Nurses Association and staff at Tobey Hospital in Wareham are expressing concerns for Southcoast Health’s plan to close the facility’s maternity unit.

Southcoast Health recently announced an expansion of the maternity unit at St. Luke’s Hospital, in New Bedford, and the closure of Tobey’s unit on December 31.

The plan dedicates the entire third floor at St. Luke’s to coordinated inpatient services for the care of mothers, newborns and children.

In a release from Southcoast Health, the organization said “the state-of-the-art Women and Children’s Pavilion will include an enhanced model of care and offer residents throughout Southeastern Massachusetts an exceptional patient experience during some of life’s most important moments.”

The plan will build upon a recent $14 million investment in St. Luke’s Stoico/FIRSTFED Maternity Center.

Southcoast Health officials said the expanded services in New Bedford will provide patients service less than 20 miles away from Tobey Hospital.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association said registered nurses at Tobey and St. Luke’s denounced the decision by Southcoast Health to close Tobey’s maternity unit.

“Tobey is really a small community hospital and we take care of everyone,” said Sharon Miksch, a nurse at Tobey Hospital and chair of the MNA Bargaining Committee.

“It’s really kind of a family-centered, small community hospital and that is our focus – so closing this maternity department is a real loss for the community.”

Miksch said the maternity department is an important and valued part of the community and is the heart of the hospital.

“It’s where people have their babies and once they have their babies they continue to come to the hospital,” she said.

“Their families come, their mom, their aunts, their uncles.”

Miksch said the closure of the department will be tough for local families.

Tobey’s maternity unit offers different choices for new moms for the process of giving birth, including a low-intervention midwife.

“She has a holistic and natural approach and it is something unique and different that we offer at Tobey that will be lost and is not offered at St. Luke’s right now,” Miksch said.

Miksch said the closure will also impact many residents from communities outside of Wareham.

“People come to Tobey’s maternity department not just from Wareham. We have a huge population that comes over the bridge. We have a population that comes from Plymouth, Carver and Plympton,” she said.

“So these folks really aren’t going to have a lot of choices.”

The MNA said that Family Centered Unit nurses at St. Luke’s have already been struggling to provide safe, quality care at all times because of an influx of patients who would have previously have been cared for at Morton Hospital in Taunton. Morton’s maternity department closed last year.

“It’s my understanding that the nurses [at St. Luke’s] are already at their brink. They don’t have enough nursing staff to take care of what they are getting,” Miksch said. “To add the burden of any of our potential patients to them is a lot.”

Expecting mothers who planned to give birth at Tobey Hospital in 2020 will be contacted and guided to delivery accommodations of their choice, including St. Luke’s.

Existing Ob/Gyn services, including childbirth education and breastfeeding support groups, and providers will remain in Wareham.

Patients who have current scheduled deliveries at Tobey will be contacted by their Ob/Gyn to discuss options.

Miksch said it is a huge inconvenience for expectant mothers to have to start over and find a different place to give birth halfway through a pregnancy.

“It’s not nice for the patients at all,” she said.

According to Southcoast Health, Tobey sees 375 births on average each year, a number the organization says is steadily decreasing over the better part of a decade. St. Luke’s averages about 1,500 deliveries per year.

Southcoast Health officials said the closure of the maternity unit at Tobey will ensure the success and sustainability of the hospital, which will be expanding its emergency department with a $25 million investment.

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