CEO: Safety and staffing reasons for cutting obstetrics

Officials with South Lincoln Hospital District met with the Gazette last week over the phone to discuss in more detail the reasoning for closing its 24/7 on-call operating room, which cuts OB services, too. Staffing is the main concern, and with less staff, come safety concerns, officials said. (COURTESY PHOTO/South Lincoln Hospital District)

KEMMERER — A nationwide shortage of nurses and other clinical workers is to blame for the cut in services at South Lincoln Hospital District, CEO David Ryerse told the Gazette last week. His comments came after many in the community expressed concern over South Lincoln Hospital District’s decision to close its 24/7 on-call operating room, impacting the obstetrics (OB) department, which means it will no longer serve the pregnant population and will not deliver babies outside of an emergency. The change is scheduled for June 1.

“We’ve had some challenges in our operating room, maintaining and keeping staff,” Ryerse said. “Some of that is attrition; we’ve had challenges for years, ahead of the pandemic. But for the last seven-plus months now in the operating room, we’ve really been whittled down to two full-time nurses.”

Ryerse said the hospital has been working to recruit workers, but it receives limited applications — some positions receive no applications at all.

Ryerse said the real difficulty with staffing is when it comes to running a 24/7 operating room — which SLMC currently has, but only until May 31. In order to perform deliveries, the hospital must have a 24/7 on-call operating room, and that means — during the nationwide worker shortage — having the same employee or employees on-call all the time when they’re not actually working. That’s not enticing to potential workers, Ryerse said.

Beginning in June, the operating room will only be open Monday through Friday. Ryerse said it’s important to note that this change doesn’t affect the emergency room, and any emergency, even if there’s a pregnancy involved, will be handled appropriately, as with all medical conditions.

Ryerse also said the decision to cut services wasn’t taken lightly and involved hospital staff.

“The medical staff decided to move forward; they made the decision as a vote,” Ryerse said. “Part of that decision process was, ‘If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose everything.’ Moving to a Monday through Friday operating room schedule will help us recruit candidates, and the goal is to strengthen our operating room and provide services that strengthen our community. Our goal is to really enhance our operating room capabilities.”

It’s not lost on Ryerse that growth may well be around the corner for Kemmerer, as sitework has already begun for a proposed nuclear power plant just outside town. But he said most pregnant women in the area choose to go elsewhere anyway.

“How many of the expecting moms are we actually capturing in general in our area? Based on the numbers … we believe that 70% or more of expecting moms in our area choose to go somewhere else.”

According to SLHD, the hospital only delivered 20 babies in 2021. This year, SLHD is aware of only five locals expecting deliveries this year, he said.

Ryerse said the hospital plans to improve other areas of service instead of scramble to fix what is, by and large, a nationwide staffing problem with no immediate solution on the horizon.

Ryerse said he is willing to meet with anyone who has ongoing questions about the current direction of SLHD. He can be reached at 307-800-8651.

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