Press Release from BRRH Medical Staff

The medical staff of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital gathered for a special meeting on July 31, 2017 to discuss the discontinuation of Labor and Delivery Services at BRRH. The following is the statement agreed upon by majority vote:
We, the medical providers of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, want the public to know that we believe labor and delivery and surgical services are essential at our community hospital. Keeping these services open is in the best interest and health of the community.
To be clear, we do not see Mission as an “enemy.” They have provided financial support our hospital could not have survived without. However, Mission Health has demonstrated a repeated pattern of making decisions that have enormous impacts on our mountain counties without seeking input from our medical staff, community leaders, or the larger community.
We want to see a change in the way Mission does business here. We want to have a greater say about the care provided at BRRH, and we want your voice to be heard, too. 
The first step in speaking up is understanding what happened and what’s going on.
BRRH has state-of-the-art facilities and already meets the recommended standards for rural labor and delivery units. The American Academy of Family Practice supports specially trained family physicians like Drs. Mitchell and DeGuzman performing C-sections to improve access to care in rural areas. Yet Mission Health presented to the public that labor and delivery is being closed due to low volume of deliveries at BRRH, using research studies showing that hospitals delivering fewer than 500 babies a year have a higher risk of a poor outcome when compared to centers that do more than 500 deliveries.  However, this doesn’t take into account our hospital’s actual outcomes, which have been excellent.
Also, even if all women who planned on delivering at BRRH delivered in McDowell, the number of deliveries would still be well below 500 per year. This means that the same studies Mission used to close our labor and delivery unit don’t support McDowell being any safer. They also fail to mention the studies that show driving long distances to deliver a baby increases risk and can be related to poor outcomes.  Mission administration does not appear to understand that the national statistics they used do not apply to our unique situation of providing local care in the rural mountains.
It appears to us that the motive to close labor and delivery was largely financial.  Hospitals across the country face financial challenges. Labor and delivery units usually lose money. This happens when patients do not have insurance that pays for deliveries or have Medicaid.
To put that in context, half of all maternity care in North Carolina is covered by Medicaid. 75-80% of the patients the Mission system serves are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Reimbursement to hospitals by Medicare and Medicaid often does not cover the cost of providing care. Also, North Carolina was one of the states that chose not to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, resulting in more uninsured patients overall. All those factors put together means Mission Health System is required to provide hospital services to patients and absorb the losses from the uninsured and underinsured. So, when faced with such financial losses, they choose to cut or consolidate services.
Mission Health creates plans for services based on the number of people our hospital serves, which is a small number compared to other hospitals. Therefore, it is likely that Mission’s plan will be to continue consolidating and reducing services at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital. Those of us with years of experience working in a rural area know there are critical services that we deserve to have at our local hospital. These include labor and delivery (for non-high-risk pregnancies), emergency and elective surgery, emergency room care, hospitalization for basic illnesses, and laboratory and x-ray services. We don’t expect to have all kinds of specialty care here, and we are very thankful for our specialist colleagues in Asheville and elsewhere who are there for our patients when they need them.

We want the entire community to engage in truly equal negotiations, with the common goal of providing the best care possible. We invite everyone to get involved. Consider what services you want your hospital to provide and help determine how we can support it. Send a postcard to Save Labor and Delivery, PO Box 51, Burnsville, NC , 28714.  Also, consider joining the Mitchell-Yancey healthcare task force.  The next meeting will be Thursday, August 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Messiah of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Micaville.

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