OB program at PMC will remain

Special to the I-O by Donna Sanders
   “Your health is our mission,” (PMC) Pondera Medical Center CEO Mark Jones told the Independent-Observer on Wednesday.
   Jones, along with the hospital board of trustees on Thursday decided to keep the hospital’s obstetrics program alive.
   The board was considering cutting the program because of budget concerns, nurse satisfaction, physician and nurse recruitment, the cost of keeping certified nurse anesthetists to cover the operating room, and the diminished use of baby deliveries at the PMC.
   The number of births at the hospital has dropped from 45 in 2007 to 27 in all of 2008 and 22 to date this year.
   Nevertheless, on Thursday, after some discussion, the board modified the budget to allow for a full-time on-call nurse anesthetist, and is considering other number-crunching possibilities to keep the program alive.
   The loss of the OB program at PMC would mean no more babies would be born in Conrad, unless under emergency circumstances. Jones also noted, “People will not consider you a hospital if you do not have an OB program.”
   That is a scary thought for Stephanie Keil-Harris, a local mother of four, including twins born at the PMC in August 2008.
   “The thought of driving to Great Falls while in labor frightened me, and Andre (her husband) and I wanted to be close to our family,” she said.
   “When we found out that we could doctor and birth locally in Conrad, we were thrilled,” she said, adding, “We saw Dr. Peter Barran here and Dr. Tom Key in Great Falls on consult. Dr. Key was very supportive of my desire to give birth in Conrad.”
   When the time came for the babies to be born, the Harris family received outstanding care from Dr. Barran, Dr. Jay Taylor and several of the nurses and other medical staff at PMC, with the result being two full-term healthy babies with no complications.
   “I’ve given birth at two state-of-the-art medical centers in the Minneapolis area, and the care we received at the PMC was just as professional as, and probably more personal than my first two births,” Keil-Harris said.
   On the idea of losing the OB program, she said, “I would be shocked and saddened. It’s such a vital part of our community, and sets up apart from our neighboring towns. I think pregnant women and families should evaluate their priorities and stay local whenever possible.”
   Rural hospitals across the country are struggling to keep their OB programs afloat, for many of the same reasons PMC was considering ceasing its program. Most recently, Cut Bank cut its OB program due to the lack of providers.
   For Renee Lowery, a pregnant Cut Bank resident, not having a local option for giving birth is unsettling.
   “I am a little bit nervous about being due in the winter knowing that there isn’t a specialist close by to receive me,” Lowery said. “To not have the option to see someone that we are comfortable with in our community is troubling.”
   The Cut Bank clinic is referring expectant mothers to Conrad, Shelby and Great Falls. With other nearby hospitals ceasing OB programs, the PMC has an opportunity to be the premiere baby center in northcentral Montana.
   In another report from Jones, he said the PMC is working on having a banner in the new high school gym, the front lobby is now finished, “and looking real good.” Work is being done on a business plan for the Wellness Center and there was some discussion on purchasing a modular unit for needed expansion of the Center.
   Jones informed the trustees a modular unit could be leased and customized to fit the Center’s needs. More research is going to be done on this and a report given to the board at an upcoming meeting.
   Concerning the appointment of new board members, the county commissioners will submit a list a names and present it to the PMC trustees to make a decision for a new member.
   The PMC trustees will meet again on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. in the conference room. The November and December meetings will take place on the third Thursday of each month due holidays, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve falling the fourth Thursday of the month.
   Editor’s note: I-O editor Buck Traxler contributed to this story.