Oregon’s East Multnomah County legislative delegation is calling on the Oregon Health Authority to deny a waiver request from Legacy Health that would close the Family Birth Center at Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham.
The center is scheduled to stop service on March 17, leaving thousands of families with the need to travel greater distance to access health care options in Portland.
Reps. Zach Hudson, D-District 49, Ricki Ruiz, D-District 50, and Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-District 25, released a shared press release on Monday, March 13, in which they called for action to save the birth center.
“We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the closure of this vital community resource. This birth center is a necessary service for our constituents, and it is irresponsible to burden people in labor to drive even longer distances to reach health services. The closure of this birth center is discriminatory against women and their fundamental right to access health care,” said Rep. Hudson, in whose district the center is located.
Hudson, Ruiz and Gorsek sent OHA’s director, James Schroeder, and incoming director, Dave Baden, a letter on March 9, urging the OHA to deny Legacy Health’s waiver. Legislators are also in conversation with OHA about what penalties will be available should Legacy Health proceed with the closure outside of the legal process.
According the statement issued in a press release March 13, the lawmakers current law requires any hospital wishing to close a health center must submit a request for waiver "with appropriate time" for review and approval before the intended closure date.
If they close the doors and lay off staff without approval by OHA, the hospital is liable for civil and financial penalties, the lawmakers added.
“This is an inadequate replacement of experienced medical providers and staff. These trained professionals will lose their positions at a time when our healthcare system needs every nurse, doctor and midwife," Gorsek said. "Further, patients who have long lived in our communities will be forced to travel, in some cases, hours away from home to seek care."
Legacy Health has stated they intend to provide the Mount Hood Emergency Department (ED) staff with eight hours of labor and delivery training to compensate for the closure.
The lawmakers contend the amount of training is grossly insufficient, patients’ quality of care at risk.
East County faces some of the highest number of low-income and under-insured residents in the state. Legacy Health plans to transport patients with complications via Life Flight helicopters or ambulance to Metro area hospitals. On average, a Life Flight ride costs $40,000, with the burden falling to some of the state’s most financially vulnerable and under-insured families, the lawmakers said.
“If Legacy Health’s mission statement truly is ‘good health for our people, our patients, our communities’ and that they ‘will do the right thing,' then we are hopeful we can find a solution to this situation,” Ruiz said.
The Legislature will hold a hearing in the House Rules Committee on March 21 to learn more about the birth center and the impact its closure would have on the community.
In addition to these Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Jeff Helfrich, a Republican in House District 52, and who was not included in the press release, has also signaled his concern over the looming closure of the birth center. Helfrich serves the district that includes Sandy and the Mount Hood communities. The people residing in those communities will see their distance from birthing services doubled, and some cases tripled.
“I am deeply concerned about the closure of the Family Birth Center at Legacy Mt Hood Medical Center and how it will affect moms and babies," Helfrich said. "I am continuing to participate in talks with other legislators, local elected leaders and Legacy officials about how our constituents will be affected and what can be done to keep our district safe.”
Other legislators who have voiced their support of these efforts include Reps. Travis Nelson, RN, D-District 44, Rob Nosse, D-District 42, Maxine Dexter, MD, D-District 33, and Sens. Elizabeth Steiner, MD, D-District 24, Deb Patterson, D-District 10.