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Bye-bye babies: June 30 closure set for Auburn hospital's birthing center

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Sutter Health will shut down its Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital birthing center June 30. The center’s 30 employees were given the official word Tuesday, providing a solid target date for a closure that was first announced in early May. Sutter Auburn Faith CEO Mitch Hanna said Tuesday that the last scheduled birth is set for June 27. Nurses and other birthing center workers have vocally opposed the closure as unsafe and inconvenient for people who will make a drive July 1 and after to Roseville instead of the nearby North Auburn hospital when labor pains begin. Denise Pavelko, who has worked as a nurse at Sutter Auburn Faith for 20 years, said nurses have reached out to Auburn-area patients for support to keep the center open but haven’t found a community leader willing to step up publicly. Nurse Lynn Bovee said that with many birthing center employees facing a loss of a job, they feel Sutter Health is rushing them out the door. “I just feel sad because Sutter Health thinks this is necessary,” Bovee said. The decision to close June 30 follows the Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region board decision in early May to move Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital Birthing Center services to Roseville. Hanna said the tentative decision was shared with staff Friday after two of the three obstetricians announced they would be leaving the community in the last three weeks of June. “We wouldn’t have adequate coverage,” Hanna said. “It makes sense to get patients established with other physicians. We could have staffed it but not without obstetricians.” Hanna said he had initially projected the center could continue through mid-July or even early August. “I think comments from the public have been very mixed,” Hanna said. “Some have viewed it more emotionally than others and others understand that demographics are changing and we can’t be all things to all people.” The North Auburn birthing unit – which has 11 rooms – averaged about a birth a day last year – down from 474 in 2004 and 505 in 2006. Sutter Health made plans to close the birthing unit about five years ago but community protests at that time forced the care provider to change its mind. “It’s difficult to maintain service when you’re caring for one patient a day,” Hanna said. Hanna said that the hospital has extended benefit coverage for a month to employees who may be out of work after June 30. Four of the 30 employees have already found another job at the hospital. Others are part-time at Sutter Auburn Faith and have other jobs at other hospitals, he said. Still others are choosing to retire, he said. “It’s never easy,” Hanna said. Employees, members of the California Nurses Association and the Teamsters, aren’t giving up their fight. “I think we’ve kept the faith for a long time and we will continue to do so until the doors close,” Pavelko said. “Are we still fighting with the union to awaken the community and halt this closure? Yes we are.”