By a vote of six to one, the Oak Valley Hospital Board of Directors decided to close the obstetrics unit of the hospital that has delivered babies since the early 1970s.
Hospital CEO John McCormick made the recommendation back on Jan. 23, claiming the unit was losing $750,000 per year.
“This is a loss we can no longer absorb,” McCormick wrote in his report for the board vote. “It pains me to make this statement, but I recommend the Board authorize the closing of the Obstetric Department in July 2013 or sooner if warranted.”
Board President Dan Cummins acknowledged to the audience that the vote was a very emotional topic.
“I can say with complete confidence that this board has been through a very difficult and emotional process in determining our vote on the subject,” Cummins said. “But, nobody on this board has the luxury of voting our emotions. We must take all the facts into consideration.”
Cummins said he had to take into account the well-being of the entire district and the future of the hospital in determining his vote.
Board member Dr. Edward Chock reminded the gathering that he had been practicing medicine in the area for a great while and listened to those that spoke at the two public forums held over the last two weeks but had to look at the district as a whole.
“We have no other choice but to close this department,” Chock said. “With a financial loss of this magnitude it’s just not sustainable without compromising our ability to provide services to the community.”
Chock motioned for the vote on the matter.
Longtime board member Bob Wikoff seconded the motion, but wanted to make a statement prior to casting of the votes.
Wikoff questioned if the district had sufficiently marketed the hospital to significant Oakdale employers such as the school district, Oakdale Irrigation District or Sconza Candy, whose health plans send insured patients to other area hospitals.
“What have we done to get them to use Oak Valley Hospital?” Wikoff asked. “We’ve dropped the ball on lots of areas that could have helped the hospital.”
“We can’t point fingers and lay blame,” Cummins responded. “We have to keep our core healthy. Being financially responsible trumps the idea of keeping a department open.”
By a vote of six to one, with Wikoff casting the dissenting vote, the board voted to close the department by July 2013.
“This is a very sad day,” muttered Oak Valley Foundation Representative Saundra West, who during the public comment of the meeting announced the donation of two ambulances to the hospital.
After the meeting, Wikoff said he knew how the vote was going to go. He said he had a concern that other doctors, those involved in obstetrics, weren’t at the meeting.
Last year the Oak Valley Hospital was the birthplace of 217 babies.
As part of the evening, McCormick also recommended closing two off-site clinics and announced that the sleep center was in the midst of being sold.
“Neither of these clinics fit into our long range plans,” McCormick said.
The hospital will continue to provide prenatal care and emergency room services for birthing, but patients will have to go to local hospitals in Modesto, Turlock, Manteca or another location for planned births.