|Ocala, FL -
March 29, 2012|
Published in the Ocala Star Banner on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 6:13 p.m.
Munroe Regional Medical Center's corner on the baby delivery market may not last much longer. Ocala Health System confirmed it is considering restarting the obstetrics program abandoned 10 years ago at Ocala Regional Medical Center.
The internal review is linked to Ocala Health's earlier announcement to Florida hospital regulators that it will seek permission to establish a level-two trauma unit at Ocala Regional. Ocala Health also owns West Marion Community Hospital.
"That's what we're evaluating, if it's in the best interest of our organization," said Suzanne Santangelo, director of marketing for Ocala Health. "Obstetrics has been on the table a few years now, but with the trauma center … it's taken on heightened importance."
Santangelo said she did not know when Ocala Health would make a decision on the matter, but it is already considering such issues as space requirements at Ocala Regional, costs, and staffing needs.
Unlike the trauma unit, an OB unit would not require a state-issued "certificate of need."
Santangelo said the trauma unit, which would be the only one in the county, would require an obstetrician on call and obstetrics services.
The obstetrics decision also will be based on finances and several other considerations, including "establishing a relationship with patient for future care," Santangelo said.
Ocala Regional, a 200-bed hospital on Southwest First Avenue just north of 17th Street, eliminated its obstetrics program in 2005. At the time, Ocala Regional said the program had become too costly.
In 2004, the hospital delivered about 600 babies, fewer than a quarter of the 2,697 born in Marion County, and would have had to invest considerable money in facility upgrades to continue the program.
By 2006, Munroe had taken over the businesses of delivering babies, with nearly 100 percent of the market share. It has improved its program, including hiring a neonatologist for premature or sick newborns, buying computer programs to monitor babies, planning a program to keep newborns with their mothers with minimal separation, and beginning work on a $1 million, Level 2 neonatal intensive care unit.
Marion County Hospital District trustees are currently considering leasing or selling the public, not-for-profit Munroe because of financial needs.
Munroe has 126 employees dedicated to its obstetrics program, which includes 51 maternity beds.
In 2007, Munroe delivered 3,017 babies. That declined to 2,695 in 2011, according to records supplied by the hospital.
Pam Michell, Munroe's vice president/chief nursing officer, predicts that Munroe would lose some maternity patients if Ocala Regional restarted. She said much of Munroe's investments in its obstetrics program is based on its expected patient volume.
"If they take 2 percent, that's one thing. But if they take 10, 15, 20 percent…then there is a financial impact," she said.
While Munroe's maternity program lost $1.2 million in 2010, the hospital received money through government programs because it provided the service, netting $1.8 million that year.
Munroe trustee Dr. Mike Jordan said Munroe can't base its obstetrics decisions on what Ocala Regional decides to do.
But Jordan said Ocala Regional was likely considering the move to bolster its image in the community. He said the move would be a wasteful duplication of services.