The closure of several labor and delivery units at hospitals across Western North Carolina means more mothers and their doctors are planning births differently.
Dr. Suzanne Dixon has been an OBGYN with the Mountain Area Health Education Center for about 8 years. Most of the time she works in Asheville but she spends 2 days a week in Franklin at Mission Women’s Care.
“I’ve been the only one doing the women’s work at that practice,” says Dixon.
Dixon says that since Angel Medical Center closed it’s Labor and Delivery Unit in 2017, the other OBGYNs in her practice had to leave.
Another change is that about 80 percent of Dixon’s patients now schedule when they will be induced into labor instead of waiting for a natural birth.
“It’s just a change in practice. We used to have the luxury of letting people go into labor on their own and that they will be able to get to a hospital at a reasonable time but we just can’t guarantee that that will happen anymore,” says Dixon. She added that she also prints off prenatal scans for mothers to keep with them in case they have to give birth at a location not in their birth plan.
Six labor units across Western North Carolina have closed in the last 5 years, says Dixon. The most recent was
Danielle Collins is an assistant elementary school teacher in Franklin. Her first child was born at Angel Medical Center in 2014. Her second child was induced. Right now, Dr. Dixon is taking care of her during her third pregnancy.
“I’m so thankful today was Wednesday so she was there,” says Collins.
Last week, Collins wasn’t feeling well because of her pregnancy - it just happened to be one of the two days that Dixon was in Franklin. She says earlier in her pregnancy she wasn’t so lucky. She was exposed to the flu and couldn’t get an appointment in Franklin so she had to just call the Asheville office for advice. She is planning to give birth at Mission Hospital almost 70 miles away from her home.
“It’s really stressful. Not having it right at your fingertips like I did with my first child - it’s really hard,” explains Collins as she compares her first birth that was 10 minutes away to her current situation.
Labor and delivery services haven’t just gone away in Western North Carolina. Across the country in rural towns, maternal health services have decreased over the last 15 years. According to a National Rural Health Association Study, more than 10% of rural counties have lost access to these services.