Memorial Medical Center in Neillsville will no longer deliver babies starting Feb. 15. Rusk County Memorial Hospital in Ladysmith will suspend deliveries March 2, a move officials hope will be temporary, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported .
Both medical centers have been directing expectant mothers to hospitals in neighboring communities, including Black River Falls, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire and Rice Lake.
Lisa Montgomery, a business-development manager at Memorial Medical Center, said one factor in closing the birth center was the declining numbers of deliveries. About 30 babies are born in Neillsville every year, she said.
Over the past five years, Rusk County Memorial Hospital saw between 47 and 68 births per year, hospital CEO Charisse Oland said.
"It was a very painful decision," Oland said, "... but we knew we could never put moms and babies at risk."
Montgomery and Oland both said their hospitals will continue to provide pre- and postnatal care and pediatric services, as well as handle emergency deliveries. Oland said Rusk County Memorial is actively recruiting new doctors and she hopes the suspension of deliveries will be short-lived.
Other hospitals have also closed birthing centers in previous years.
Officials at Mayo Clinic Health System-Chippewa Valley decided about a decade ago to stop handling births. Ed Wittrock, the hospital's vice president of operations, said was tough to recruit family-practice physicians who were trained to deliver babies.
"Family practitioners are not all trained to deliver babies, and rural communities tend to have a majority of family practitioners," he said.
Hospital officials also noted that staffers needed to be on call to handle deliveries, which becomes an issue for overworked doctors.
"It was a very, very difficult decision by the local board and medical staff," Wittrock said. "We did a fair amount of study before (making the decision), but, in the end, it came down to patient safety and being able to provide a good service.