FRONT ROYAL — After learning last week that Valley Health planned to stop delivering babies at Warren Memorial Hospital’s Women’s Care Cetner as early as May 1, two local moms decided they needed to take action.
Melanie Salins and Michelle Matthiae launched the Facebook group Save the Women’s Care Center at Warren Memorial Hospital on Saturday. By Wednesday afternoon, it had 807 members, some of whom demonstrated outside the hospital Wednesday afternoon.
“There are a lot of Warren County babies here,” said Salins, who delivered both of her children at the hospital and appeared in the cover story of a 2010 Valley Health publication promoting the Women’s Care Center.
When Valley Health announced plans last year to build a new $99.7 million hospital off Leach Run Parkway, obstetric services were not included in the plans. Valley Health reaffirmed those plans last week, saying it planned to end birthing services at the hospital May 1, a move attributed to “staffing challenges.”
In a Tuesday telephone call that included Warren Memorial Hospital president Floyd Heater and Women’s Care Center Dr. Julian Martinez, Heater explained that the health system looked at current utilization when it chose to discontinue birthing in Warren County.
“About a third of Warren County women choose to go to Winchester Medical Center right now,” said Heater, who also is vice president of Valley Health’s Southern Region. “About 38 percent go to Warren Memorial.”
The remaining 29 percent either go to other hospitals — including Novant Health’s Haymarket Medical Center or Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton — use midwife services or give birth at home, he said.
Officials also looked at Warren County’s growth trends, which Heater restated Tuesday show less growth in the child-bearing age groups than in other age groups.
Salins and Matthiae, in a Monday telephone call, disputed that assertion.
“They’re building so much new stuff,” Matthiae said. “They’re building new housing; a new school.”
They also questioned Valley Health’s setup, in which all births are handled in Winchester by a team of birthing specialists instead of a local doctor in whom the women have developed trust.
Martinez noted that, even now, women have no guarantee that their doctor will be the one who delivers their babies. He said he treats women in Front Royal and Woodstock but does not get called in when they are ready to give birth.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said.
Martinez said he and other physicians work with their patients before and after childbirth.
“The only time we won’t be involved is delivery,” he said.
Martinez said he trusts the abilities of the delivery doctors.
“I think Winchester Medical Center is as good as it gets,” Martinez said.
Winchester Medical Center is about 24 miles from Front Royal by car, which raised concern from Salins and Matthiae about the lack of local services in cases of emergency or complications, such as a placental abruption or eclampsia.
Winchester, with its neonatal intensive care unit, is better equipped to handle such complications than Warren Memorial Hospital is, Martinez said.
The drive, he said, is not as dangerous as it’s being made out to be. He noted that Shenandoah Memorial Hospital in Woodstock stopped delivering babies in 2009 and only one child has since been born in its emergency room.
“You’ve always got 25 minutes,” he said.