Riverland OB unit closure may be temporary

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 16, 2006

Vernon Stevens, Riverland Medical Center administrator, said the closure of the birth and labor ward on May 31, simply made sense. &8220;Nobody wanted to close it, it was just a matter of can we staff it,&8221; he said. &8220;The factors that went into the decision were staffing and economical. With the nursing shortage we haven&8217;t been able to staff it and agency nurses get expensive.&8221; Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, whose effects are still very present, have taken approximately 1,200 Louisiana nurses elsewhere, causing state shortages especially in rural hospitals, Stevens said. Agency nurses, hired through an agency for daily or even hourly work, can cost $60 an hour and with the state and federal funding Riverland receives, just doesn&8217;t make sense, he said. &8220;To fill the slots you have to fall back on agency nurses and that&8217;s not the best people to fill those positions because they don&8217;t know the system,&8221; Stevens said. &8220;Closing temporarily makes it a little harder to restaff it, but we are still advertising and trying to restaff it.&8221; Another concern Stevens had in the hospital&8217;s future and the hiring of new nurses was the attractive offers some are receiving to leave hospitals for teaching jobs. Nurses must be taught somewhere and with programs pushing escalation within the nursing field, it hurts the industry. &8220;Recruiting nurses is tough,&8221; Stevens said. &8220;A lot of opportunities for nurses exist now that are non-nursing opportunities and some nurses have to leave the field to go to teaching. It&8217;s also scary how many nurses in the area are nearing retirement.&8221; Rural hospitals, mostly kept afloat by steady business and federal and state funding, see a majority of patients with Medicaid and Medicare, which don&8217;t cover costs of running a hospital, Stevens said. He said state and federal compensation is the &8220;only reason most rurals are still open.&8221; With the shortage of nurses, the question of doctor&8217;s availability and willingness to come to rural areas arises shortly after, he said.

&8220;Some of the things people like to do that make a lot of money, rural areas just don&8217;t offer,&8221; Stevens said. &8220;The doctor we have had, it&8217;s almost like God put him here.&8221; The closing or reopening of the three part labor and delivery center &8212; labor and delivery, post partom nursery and surgery crew &8212; employing approximately 17 people and delivering around 250 babies a year is temporarily closed, but permanent closure is &8220;not a done deal,&8221; Stevens said.

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