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Springfield Hospital Considers Changes To Birthing Center In Effort To Trim Costs

Two women hug among a crowd in a hallway
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Dr. Barbara Dalton, with back to camera, gets a hug from one of her nurses following a board meeting at Springfield Hospital. Dalton is a doctor at the birthing center, which faces an uncertain future.

Springfield Hospital needs to trim about $6.5 million from the current year budget, and the administration announced recently that the childbirth center may be closed to save money.

The hospital has to make some tough financial decisions in the wake of the recent news that it had lost $14 million in two years. The hospital recently laid off 27 people, and some staff members received pay cuts.

Since news broke about Springfield Hospital’s financial problems, the board has been holding public information sessions before its monthly meeting. About 40 people showed up this week to try to convince the board to keep the hospital's childbirth center.

Barbara Dalton has been delivering babies in Springfield for about 30 years. She understands the need to cut costs, but she said the people making these decisions need to look beyond dollars and cents.

"You've got to have vision, you’ve got to look at what the childbirth center brings in. It’s not just the deliveries,” Dalton said. “You’re bringing in the families. You’re bringing in the mothers and the fathers and the grandparents, and the kids and the labs and the X-rays. I mean, it’s everything. It’s not just the childbirth center.”

"You've got to have vision, you've got to look at what the childbirth center brings in. It's not just the deliveries. You're bringing in the families." — Dr. Barbara Dalton, Springfield Hospital Birthing Center

Shannon Glidden had two children at Springfield Hospital, and she’s pregnant with her third. She wants to have her baby at Springfield.

Glidden said the hospital serves a population can’t always travel to another facility.

“It’s a pretty poor area. There are people who cannot get to appointments 40 miles away,” Glidden said. “And it’s stressful not knowing, being a pregnant person, where you’re going to be able to have your baby. Or whether or not the hospital you’re counting on is going to be able to deliver that baby.”

The exterior of Springfield Hospital, with a person walking toward the entrance carrying bags
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Springfield Hospital has to cut $6.5 million this year to balance its books. The board is looking at making changes to the birthing center in an effort to continue offering the service.

Michael Halstead, Springfield Hospital's interim CEO, was brought on board to shave $6.5 million off this year’s budget. So far he’s implemented  salary cuts, along with the layoffs.

Halstead said the childbirth center is losing money, though the board is willing to try to reconfigure it instead of closing the center.

“The board is very sensitive to the distance that a woman would have to travel if we did not offer this service in this community,” Halstead said. “And so because of that, you know, we’re going to try to keep it. The challenge that we face here is we can’t have too many services that are losing money before we’re going to have trouble maintaining the entire facility.”

"The challenge that we face here is we can't have too many services that are losing money before we're going to have trouble maintaining the entire facility." — Michael Halstead, Springfield Hospital interim CEO

If Springfield closes its birthing center it will be just the latest rural hospital in the U.S. to stop offering obstetric services.

Delores Barbeau, a doctor who has been working in this region for about 20 years, said losing the hospital would be a blow to a community already struggling with the loss of population and employers.

“We’re becoming a geriatric clinic,” Barbeau said. “There’s always been ... young families and kids running around. And if they aren’t being delivered here, then they’ve already found pediatricians other places. They’ve already found other places to go. And so Springfield is losing them.”

Halstead said the administration will meet with the doctors and nurses in the childbirth center to try to come up with a plan for both saving money and keeping the center open. He said the board wants to see the numbers next week.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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