Shrinking number of birthing centers alarms local moms, advocates

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Officials in Rensselaer County are concerned that a lack of healthcare for pregnant women in Rensselaer County could reach a dangerous level.

NewsChannel 13 reported Tuesday that St. Peter’s Health Partners is planning to close the Burdett Birth Center at Samaritan Hospital, the county’s only birthing center.

Troy’s mayor said Wednesday that the closure would most affect Black women in the city, a group that has a higher maternal mortality rate than others.

Mayor Patrick Madden (D – Troy) said in part, “Rensselaer County already has a maternal mortality rate that is higher than both the Capital Region and state rates, and this move threatens to create more barriers to care.” He added that it “will jeopardize lives in our community.”

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin and Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas also expressed concern in a statement.

“We are concerned about the reduction of maternity services at Samaritan, which would leave Rensselaer County without any birthing center. Our residents would be forced to travel at a greater distance to other counties, which could create issues,” said McLaughlin.

Local moms told NewsChannel 13 the center did not recently seem on the verge of closing. Claudia Savoy of Rotterdam said Burdett seemed well staffed last month. Staff took great care of her, she said.

Now she is coming to terms with the fact that she could only have a few options if she wants to have another baby. She’s already given birth twice at one of her remaining options and didn’t plan to return.

Savoy had baby Vincent, her third son, three weeks ago. Her third time giving birth was the best, she said, because of Burdett.

“I went on a tour of Burdett and I immediately fell in love with it. They just were very warm and welcoming from the second we went on the tour,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do now, if I do want to have a fourth. Because I don’t know which hospital I’d want to go to if Burdett isn’t an option.”  

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Savoy only sees two other hospitals in the region as close enough to her home to be viable options –Albany Medical Center and Bellevue Women’s Center. She worries if Burdett closes, maternal care would be overcrowded and rushed at remaining hospitals.  

“I’m worried, not just for myself, but for my friends and future families. I feel for a mom that might be in her first trimester and had planned to deliver at Burdett but doesn’t know what’s going to happen,” Savoy said.

The New York State Department of Health has to approve St. Peter’s Health Partners’ plan to close. If approved, St. Peter’s says the center would close in four to six months.

A spokesperson for the health system said in part, “Even before COVID, maternity services at Samaritan Hospital were operating at a substantial loss. […] While this is a difficult decision, the reality is our hospitals are struggling to remain sustainable and viable. This is a necessary step to ensure and preserve health care in the Troy community well into the future.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said it’s even tough to know whether the remaining hospitals are cutting certain maternal care. The group is concerned with the number of options for pregnant women in the capital region.

“Pregnancy care is becoming less accessible for women across the area,” said NYCLU Regional Director Melanie Trimble.

Advocates warn that low-income women would suffer the most.

“They’ll now have to travel. And for people without means, this becomes a very big healthcare problem. To have to travel to Albany Med or to Saratoga and to Bellevue,” Trimble said.

“It’s been almost impossible to figure out what types of care will be lost. And this is because hospitals are not transparent about what care they do and do not provide for policy-based reasons,” said Allie Bohm, policy counsel for the NYCLU, describing the group’s effort to preserve care despite increasing consolidation of health systems.

The NYCLU has advocated against the merger between St. Peter’s Health Partners and Ellis Medicine because of concerns that the Catholic health system would eliminate certain reproductive procedures.

The group is working on passing a bill to increase hospitals’ transparency. Right now, they said, hospitals are not required to disclose what care they provide, making it unclear what care is still being provided at existing maternity units.

Read St. Peter’s Health Partners full statement on the planned closure of Burdett Birth Center:

“The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on health care, including financial and staffing effects that continue to be felt today. However, even before COVID, maternity services at Samaritan Hospital were operating at a substantial loss. And while St. Peter’s Health Partners has made many efforts over the years to preserve those services in Troy, we are unfortunately no longer in a position to do so.

At this time, a provisional plan has been created to consolidate ambulatory locations – closing maternity services at Samaritan Hospital – while preserving prenatal care in Troy. If the plan is approved, following review by the New York State Department of Health, the maternity unit at Samaritan Hospital would close in approximately four to six months.

Patients will continue to have access to maternity and neonatal services at Samaritan Hospital until the closure. Looking to the future, patients will have access to nearby maternity and neonatal services including St. Peter’s Hospital, as well as Bellevue Women’s Center, Albany Medical Center, Berkshire Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital. And Samaritan emergency department providers are always at the ready to manage any laboring mothers who may present in the emergency department.

Impacted colleagues who work in labor and delivery and postpartum at Samaritan who are interested in remaining at SPHP are working with our Talent Acquisition team to identify other opportunities within our system of care.

Samaritan Hospital has been caring for the Troy community for nearly 125 years. While this is a difficult decision, the reality is our hospitals are struggling to remain sustainable and viable. This is a necessary step to ensure and preserve health care in the Troy community well into the future.”