The decision to stop delivering babies at a Macon County hospital is proving to be an unpopular one in the mountains.
Angel Medical Center in Franklin has been in the business of delivering babies for more than sixty years, but all of that is about to change come mid-summer. Mission Health, which runs the small community hospital, announced it will be discontinuing child labor and delivery services at the facility in July. The decision is unpopular with young people in Macon County.
"It’s no good. Nobody should have to drive to Highlands, or Sylva, or Asheville to deliver a baby,” that’s Franklin resident Jennifer Wallace, who recently had both of her children at Angel. “The women’s unit is very knowledgeable, friendly, caring. They help a lot, they reassure you, especially if you’re scared—both my kids were C-sections—that was scary.”
Wallace says most of the young families in her part of Western North Carolina simply don’t have the means to commute to Asheville for deliveries, and have come to depend on Angel’s labor and delivery unit over the years.
“There's a lot of people I know right now that are pregnant and don't have cars. And then there's the point of, 'yeah, I want to be in the delivery room, having a baby, but my husband still has to work'. How is he going to work, and then drive all the way over to Asheville to visit just for a few hours, and then come back to Franklin to get enough sleep to go to work the next day? And then siblings! My fifteen month old had to stay with papaw, while I was delivering her little brother, and she wouldn’t have been able to come visit, if we were all the way in Asheville. That’d be very inconvenient for everybody.”
Wallace isn’t the only one upset by Mission’s move.
“I was born at this hospital. My father was born at this hospital. I feel like it’s falling apart,” that’s Christa Juarez, of Macon County. “It makes me sad that they’re closing this labor and delivery unit, because I don’t really think they really know how it’s going to affect mothers. Especially ones that go into preterm labor.”
Juarez is a mother of four, three of which were born prematurely at Angel—one of the few hospital in the region she says is currently equipped to handle premature deliveries.
“For them to say, ‘just go to the ER here and we’ll transfer you to Asheville, that’s going to put a lot of us in danger."
After finding out about Mission’s decision, Juarez started an online petition at Change.org on Wednesday. In one day, she collected about a thousand signatures. For thirty-eight-year-old Daniel Johnson--who also signed the petition--Mission’s decision is yet another example of how the needs of a small community are negligible to big business.
“It’s sad that, ultimately, it’s coming down to be about the money. The problem is that a good percentage of the people that go there are Medicaid patients. That’s always going to be the case when you go to a rural area—there’s always going to be a higher concentration of the population that is lower income.”
Johnson’s wife is one of the twelve full-time nurses on Angel’s labor and delivery unit, and he says once it finally closes on July 14, she’ll likely be out of work.
“So her job—it’s gone. She would have to get a new job. She would have to go to another part of Mission, but she’s not guaranteed a job anywhere.”
The decision has been so unpopular, local leadership is now getting involved. County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, who was also born at the hospital, says he’s “shocked” by the news, and Representative Kevin Corbin 'strongly opposes' the decision, urging the hospital to ‘look at the bigger picture’.
According to Franklin Mayor Bob Scott, Mission’s decision has economic implications for the town as well.
“We are ripe for becoming a regional medical center. I would hope that Mission would reconsider the delivery services, and look at the town being a regional center.”
Mission President Karen Gorby said in a statement that the hospital appreciates the concerns expressed by the community, and that the decision was a difficult one to make, but based on analyses of the community’s long-term needs, it firmly believes the decision is in the best interest of Macon County patients. A press conference is scheduled for Friday morning at Mission in Asheville.
ENTIRE OFFICIAL HOSPITAL RESPONSE BY: Karen Gorby, RN, President and CNO, Angel Medical Center, Jane Kimsey, Chair, Angel Medical Center Board of Directors and Ronald A. Paulus, MD, President and CEO of Mission Health
"We understand and appreciate the concern expressed by some community members regarding Angel Medical Center’s decision to transition labor and delivery services to regional partners. We too, found this to be a very difficult decision, but based upon the analysis of our community’s long-term needs, women’s existing delivery choices, DLP Harris’s Hospital’s announced investment in labor and delivery, demographics and anticipated population changes, we firmly believe this decision is in the long-term best interest of our Macon County patients and families.
"We further understand that there is much more information to share to provide background and context for this decision. In that regard, we will be sharing significant additional information in the coming days and weeks about both our process and our decision. That will include Ms. Gorby, Dr. Paulus, and Jill Hoggard Green, RN, PhD, Chief Operating Officer for Mission Health meeting with the media to answer questions on Friday April 28, 2017."
ENTIRE OFFICIAL RESPONSE BY DISTRICT 11 REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN CORBIN:
"I strongly oppose this decision and action. When you have a great service being provided that is serving your community, that service should not be discontinued. This was a decision made because of profitability of a service. Mission should see the larger picture of their profitability of serving the entire community and not singling out this sector for exclusion."