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Southwest Memorial Hospital announces layoffs to help keep birthing center open

Protesters stand in front of Southwest Memorial Hospital on Thursday. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)
Layoffs follow backlash that surrounded plan to close birthing center

Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez announced Wednesday afternoon that it would lay off nine people in an effort to keep its birthing center open.

Southwest Health System had announced last week that it would “temporarily” close the hospital’s birthing center effective July 1.

The news release Wednesday announced that nine staff members, including members of the administrative team, were laid off to help keep the birthing center open or to reopen it earlier than originally planned.

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“Southwest Health System (SHS) continues to be proactive and make decisions necessary to sustain the hospital for the future and provide essential healthcare services to our community. As part of service line changes, we have reduced our workforce by nine staff members. Earlier, SHS announced a pause on labor and delivery services, and the plan is to reopen those services at a later time,” the news release said.

“We are ensuring that we are staffed appropriately to provide quality care in a timely manner for the services we offer,” said Shirley Jones, chair of the Southwest Memorial Hospital’s board of directors. “Quality healthcare services are vital to this community.”

According to sources close to the story, layoffs occurred in various departments such as quality control, compliance, registration, education and athletic training.

“These positions were administrative in nature with no bedside care positions impacted,” public information officer Chuck Krupa told The Journal.

A hospital staff member and her daughter hold up signs during a protest Thursday at Southwest Memorial Hospital. (Shylee Graf/The Journal)

According to Krupa, the loss of federal financial assistance after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the hospital’s financial struggles and forced the cutbacks.

“During the last few years and the pandemic, rural hospitals benefited by federal financial assistance. That is gone, making it more difficult to maintain the same level of services and staffing,” the news release said.

“Southwest Health System Board of Directors and Leadership are committed to fulfilling the Mission of SHS and creating a sustainable future where patients will receive high quality care,” the news release added.

After the announcement of the hospital’s decision to close the birthing center last Wednesday, citizens and employees of the hospital immediately raised concerns about how the decision would impact women and health care in Cortez as a whole.

On Thursday, about 50 people attended a protest outside the hospital which was organized by former Southwest Health spokeswoman Lindsay Yeager. Attendees carried signs which said, “Keep our babies local” and “Care close to home, unless you are a woman,” among other signage.

Dr. Erin Schmitt and Dr. Jessica Kaplan both voiced their concerns to The Journal on Monday, saying they feared for the health of pregnant mothers and women in general after the announcement of the birthing center’s impending closure.

Both obstetrics/gynecology doctors said they hadn’t received notice that the birthing center was at risk.

“It is a true emergency. This is really dangerous for women in this area because we don't have the capacity to deal with it here,” Kaplan said. “We're leaving our already overburdened colleagues and emergency department and EMS to deal with obstetrical emergencies and complex situations that they're not trained to deal with. There definitely are going to be patients for certain who deliver or who have emergencies that aren't going to be able to be treated in time.”

“The administration has assured us that women's health is a priority here because there’s kind of this mantra in health care that where the woman chooses to get health care, the family will follow,” Schmitt said. “So, even though we’ve had financial troubles throughout the years, they always wanted to protect women's health. And that was always a priority.”

“How are they going to get patients to Durango, and what is the cost? Do you think labor and delivery is an expensive unit to keep going now? What are the helicopter and the ambulance fees going to be bringing all these patients up to Durango? How are we going to cover that? We don't have enough at nurses now to take care of … the patients we have in our community. What are we going to do when these women come in and labor?” she asked.

SHS hospital plans to host a meeting at Southwest Memorial Hospital’s ambulance bay on Thursday, June 15 at 6 p.m. During that time, citizens may address the hospital’s board. Those who wish to attend can RSVP by emailing lallen@swhealth.org.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.