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Ridgecrest Regional Hospital / Laura Austin Photo

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital to suspend labor and delivery services

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital–  CEO cites provider shortages, ongoing reimbursement challenges

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital announced on Nov. 30, 2023, that inadequate obstetric providers and a nationwide shortage that has contributed to recruitment challenges have forced the suspension of our labor and delivery program — the only one for more than an hour in any direction.

“At the beginning of the year, we had two staff OBs and two temporary providers to help meet the local needs,” said RRH Chief Executive Officer James Suver. “In the last few months, we have had to face the impending departure of our temporary providers, the leave of absence of one provider, and the upcoming relocation of the remaining provider.

“No one at our hospital or in our community wants to put such a critical program on hold, but unless we can restore a safe number of providers at RRH, we are going to have to make the same decision so many other hospitals in our region have made.”

Suver said that he anticipates the service to continue at present staffing levels through Feb. 28. After that, transition plans include retaining enough staff to attend to onsite emergencies and transport needs. RRH will continue to provide maternal care as long as possible and set up a referral program for regional clinics.

Complicating the staffing shortage is an ongoing dispute between rural hospitals and the outdated, inadequate government funding models that have failed to provide geographically remote populations with reliable, sustainable access to local healthcare services.

Although RRH subsidized labor and delivery services to the tune of $4 million last year, continuing to make that investment only jeopardizes other services. A declining birthrate nationwide, coupled with reduced on-call expectations, has made it more difficult to sustain a safe obstetric clinic in many rural areas.

RRH has been working with elected and government leaders to find a way to restore resources that would protect services. Still, the loss of physician coverage expedited the decision to suspend services while long-term solutions were secured.

“When the pressures of our financial crisis demanded action in 2022, we implemented preemptive measures to reduce operational costs in hopes of maintaining a sustainable level of service to our community,” said Suver. “These actions have not been adequate.”

RRH is also examining other clinics and services that have been heavily subsidized in recent years. “We hate losing any services, but we want to ensure that we are preserving as much access to local healthcare as possible,” said Suver.

“The only silver lining here is that suspending service requires 90 days of public notice. We are hoping that this extreme action gets the attention of our elected leaders and helps us secure the support we need to provide such a basic healthcare need to our community,” said Suver.

“Ultimately, these are not solutions that can be achieved by us without high-level support. This country needs to have some difficult conversations about what level of healthcare we want to provide to our fellow citizens and how we are going to pay for it.

“The longer we defer that conversation, the more we are going to hear about hospitals like ours who have to close services to one segment of the population in hopes of retaining the ability to serve the majority.”