- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

EMPORIA, Va. (AP) — The Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center in Emporia will stop delivering babies Friday, further decreasing pregnant women’s access to hospital care in the state.

The $35 million hospital opened about a year ago, replacing an older one. Officials had intended to close the obstetrics unit, but it stayed open on a trial basis after city officials and the Greensville Memorial Foundation collected about $250,000 to underwrite it.

“I think it’s a terrible thing to do to expectant mothers here who now will be endangered by having to travel far from their homes to receive care, possibly on an emergency basis,” said Sharon Jadrnak, who urged state officials at meetings this summer to stop the hospital from closing the unit.

The problem isn’t limited to Emporia. The availability of maternity care is increasingly becoming limited in rural Virginia because of the high cost of malpractice insurance, the low number of children being born in smaller communities and Medicaid payments that don’t fully cover deliveries.

Hospitals in Norton, Lebanon, Low Moor and Grundy in Southwest Virginia and Kilmarnock on the Northern Neck have closed their obstetrics units in the past 18 months.

In Emporia, Southern Virginia Regional officials say staffing problems and an inability to find a second obstetrician to serve the area forced an end to the service. In addition, Bob Towler, who took over as the hospital’s chief executive in October, said only 123 babies had been born through October.

Dr. Delores Flowers, the sole obstetrician serving the hospital, had planned to meet with patients to arrange transportation to other hospitals. About 15 women are expecting babies within the next month, she said.

“Most of these women do not have adequate transportation,” she said.

Dr. Flowers has had to practice without regular backup since February 2003. The second doctor left because of too few patients and rising malpractice rates.

The state health department allowed the hospital to operate with one obstetrician, but that waiver ends at the end of the year.

Dr. Flowers, whose husband is a family practitioner in Emporia, said the closing “ends a dream” for them.

“When we got here, we felt like we’d found the perfect place,” she said.

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