Holy Redeemer seeks help with labor pains Maternity practice swells as others quit delivery business.

Posted: September 22, 2007

Just five years ago, Holy Redeemer Hospital & Medical Center expanded its maternity unit so it would have room for 2,500 new mothers a year. Already it's on track to see up to 3,500.

"We are bursting at the seams," Marian Thallner, vice president of women's and children's services at Holy Redeemer Health System, told members of the Pennsylvania House Health and Human Services Committee yesterday.

Five hospitals near Holy Redeemer have stopped delivering babies, and the Meadowbrook facility is coping with the fallout.

After the latest maternity ward closure at Jeanes Hospital this summer, Holy Redeemer spent $3 million on renovations and staff. Now, it's contemplating $5 million to $8 million more for expansion.

Thallner asked the lawmakers, who already are considering legislation that would boost Medicaid payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor mothers, to help Holy Redeemer as well. The number of Medicaid patients at Holy Redeemer is rising, but still below the bill's threshold, she said. Nonetheless, it is suffering because so many other hospitals have given up, she said.

A parade of hospital leaders yesterday told the committee, which met at Albert Einstein Medical Center, that 14 hospitals have stopped delivering babies in the last decade largely because low Medicaid payments and high malpractice expenses make maternity a money loser.

Arnold Cohen, chair of Einstein's ob-gyn department, said Einstein loses $4,000 per delivery when the cost of malpractice insurance is considered. He and representatives from other hospitals that have continued to deliver babies said they are struggling to care for growing numbers of new mothers and babies.

A report done for the Philadelphia Health Department this summer by the Drexel University School of Public Health found that the number of maternity beds in Philadelphia and the nearby suburbs is now "inadequate." The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that maternity units operate at about 75 percent capacity so they can handle surges. In 2004, the report found, six hospitals had occupancy rates above 85 percent: Abington Memorial, Einstein, Hahnemann University, Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The report concluded that hospitals in the region - eight in Philadelphia plus three in the suburbs that treat Philadelphia women - need 15 more maternity beds. There are now 302 beds.

Kate Maus, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's director of maternal, child and family health, said the number could be higher because more women are getting inadequate prenatal care and more are receiving cesarean sections. Both trends could lead to longer hospital stays.

Speakers endorsed higher Medicaid funding, but said the proposed bill would hardly solve the problem. It would increase state funding by $15 million and federal funding by $18 million.

After the hearing, the committee's cochairmen, Rep. Frank Oliver, a Philadelphia Democrat, and Rep. George Kenney, a Montgomery County and Philadelphia Republican, said they would like to provide more money.

"I think it's a Band-Aid," Kenney said of the proposed $33 million.

"I think it should be much more than that," Oliver said.

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.

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