UH Portage will no longer deliver babies, a transportation problem for some expecting mothers

Photo by Aditya Romansa

Cuts across the University Hospitals system have again hit Portage County, with the recent announcement that UH Portage will no longer provide labor and delivery services after Nov. 12.

The decision has caused concern among residents who fear that mothers with limited access to transportation will struggle to reach the new consolidated maternity unit at UH Geauga Medical Center in Chardon, an hour drive from some parts of Portage County.

“There’s no social safety net for transportation for those people,” said the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, a community organizer in Kent who delivered one of her children in Ravenna 30 years ago. “Being able to go to Robinson was such a relief. It’s so much closer than having to go to Akron from Kent, and if you’re in Randolph or Windham, what are your options? Akron’s not an option, and Geauga’s sort of an unknown.”

UH blamed the decision on staffing shortages.

“It is not intended to save cost,” a hospital spokesperson told The Portager in a statement. “Providing birthing services to patients requires 24/7 coverage from OB/GYN and pediatric physicians to ensure appropriate support for mom and baby during routine and unexpected labor and delivery events, such as emergency cesarean sections.

“Consolidating labor and delivery services to UH Geauga will offer patients the most comprehensive care including UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s pediatric services for newborns.”

The hospital says women will still be able to receive emergency care at UH Portage, including OB/GYN and pediatric emergencies. And EMTs are trained to handle emergency deliveries.

“There is no change in how we deliver emergency care at UH Portage because of the consolidation,” their statement reads. “Specialized training will be provided to UH Portage emergency department staff as an additional safety precaution should urgent services be needed there.”

The hospital’s statement said no jobs will be lost when labor and delivery services are cut. Employees will have the option to transfer to other UH facilities. 

Bill Russell, Coleman Health Services’ Chief Officer of Behavioral Health for Portage County, also expressed concern about the decision. Coleman offers new and expecting parents services and support through its Pregnancy Center on Rhodes Road.

“We were very sad to learn of the impending closure of the birthing and delivery unit at University Hospitals Portage Medical Center,” Russell said. “For our shared patients and other community members we serve, we’ll encourage them to reach out right away to their OB/GYN provider and update their birthing plans as best they can.”

A Coleman employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk publicly, said she has a client who is due to give birth in January. Halfway through her pregnancy, the client is now filled with anxiety about her delivery plan.

“She’s really struggling with [UH’s decision] and doesn’t know what to do,” the employee said. “She has no transportation, so to get up to [Chardon] would be a major stressor for her.”

The client would have to depend on her case manager, who is not always available, to get her to and from those appointments. Where will they be? And with whom? What about when she goes into labor? Will the young woman’s current obstetrician go up to Chardon to handle the delivery? Or will it be a new doctor?

“There’s no place close by. It’s either Chardon or clear over in Akron,” the employee said. “She’s scared. Does she have to switch providers so she can go to Akron General or Akron City?”

Coleman employees can only encourage the young women to speak with their medical providers, and perhaps help them formulate a plan.

UH also said it would assist expecting mothers with the transition.

“We encourage our patients to talk to their physician if they have concerns about their pregnancy,” the statement said. “UH social workers will help provide solutions or refer patients to other organizations for the support they need.”

University Hospitals has caused controversy over the past year after decisions to cut back on services throughout Northeast Ohio.

In July 2021, UH said it was consolidating emergency care services and permanently shut down its ER in Kent. Local first responders and city officials worried the cutback would strain Kent’s emergency services.

In August of this year, University Hospitals closed inpatient, emergency and surgical services at its Bedford and Richmond medical centers. The City of Bedford sued the hospital system, calling the decision racial discrimination.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.