Special delivery: Sutter Auburn Faith birthing center welcomes last baby

Bittersweet ending at soon-to-close Auburn facility for some employees
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
The end of Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital’s birthing unit marked one last new beginning. Tiny Liam Andrew Demas, all 6 pounds 10 ounces of him, came into the world at 11:26 p.m. on Monday. He’s the last in a line of thousands over four decades born at the hospital’s maternity ward and birthing facility. Sarah, 25, and Josh Demas, 26, the baby’s mother and father, wanted to have Liam born in Auburn at the hospital but weren’t aiming for the infant to be a benchmark baby. Both parents grew up in the Auburn-Newcastle area. “I really wanted our baby to be born in Auburn,” said Sarah, a Placer High School graduate. “I love it here and he’ll grow up here too. But I didn’t think we’d make it.” The Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region Board of Directors made the decision in early May to close the family birthing center and move all inpatient labor and delivery services to its bigger, newer hospital in Roseville. The decision to close June 30 – with the last scheduled birth set for June 27 – was received by staff in late May. Newcastle residents, the Demases arrived at the hospital just before noon Monday and Liam was born just before midnight. Demas said that she was experiencing contractions but had expected to be sent home when she arrived at midday. Instead, she was admitted to the unit. The new family of three is expecting to leave the hospital by Wednesday morning. “I’ve been told he’s a perfect baby,” Demas said. “We’re off to a good start.” The happy occasion for the Demases was buffered by the tension of closing a longstanding community facility and the dispersal of about 30 birthing unit employees. 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 Auburn facility. Emergency births can still take place at Sutter Auburn Faith but scheduled births will be channeled to the Sutter Roseville Medical Center, about 20 miles away. Nurse Denise Pavelko, with 20 years experience at the hospital, said she thinks it’s unbelievable that the service will no longer be available in the community. “It’s a shame,” Pavelko said. “I wish we could have created more energy (in the community to oppose the closure) but we weren’t able to do that.” Pavelko said she feels that Sutter Health has left her unprotected after many years of service, offering only a night position in a Sacramento facility that she has turned down. But she leaves with many happy memories and a feeling of pride in the work she had done. “This is an awesome service for a little community and it’s impacted my life too,” Pavelko said. “I’m so happy to have been part of it.” Mitch Hanna, Sutter Auburn Faith CEO, said the closure had gone smoothly, following the late May decision to aim for a June 30 closure. That followed notice by two of the center’s three obstetricians that they would be leaving the community in the last three weeks of June. “We’re all very sad to see the center closing,” Hanna said. “We’ve tried to make the transition as smooth as possible even though we’re down to one OB staff member.” Hanna said that nurses’ union contracts have been honored during the transition but the contract contains no clause for severance pay if transitioning to another job doesn’t occur. Sutter Health is also extending COBRA health coverage two additional months, he said. The North Auburn birthing unit – comprising 11 of the hospital’s 80 rooms – averaged about a birth a day last year. That’s down from 474 in 2004 and 505 in 2006. Sutter Health had 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. The Demases are expecting their next baby will be born in Roseville. “I’ve never gone there so I don’t know what it will be like,” Sarah said. “I’m worried about what it will be like. They’ve really been sweet here.”