More obstetricians are being hired by Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, about two hours east of Pittsburgh.
The increased demand is due to the closure of delivery rooms in nearby rural areas. In the past few years, the closures of three delivery rooms in the Laurel Highlands region have resulted in expectant mothers being referred to Conemaugh from surrounding towns.
Most recently, obstetrics services in Bedford ended in 2017. Somerset Hospital closed its delivery room in 2016. Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber closed its obstetrics unit in 2014.
In that time, deliveries at Conemaugh have gone up from about 1,250 to 1,850 a year.
“If you do the math, the rise isn’t as much as you might expect, and we think that is the dampening effect of a declining and aging population,” said Conemaugh Health System’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Susan Williams.
Conemaugh Hospital currently has six OB/GYN’s, including two specializing in maternal fetal medicine to meet the needs of high risk pregnancies. Williams said the hospital is adding two more obstetricians in the next six months, as well as an additional midwife.
While concentrating labor and delivery services can create a challenge for people across the region who are forced to travel for care, Williams said there is a benefit to Conemaugh increasing its number of deliveries – the hospital is able to increase and improve its services, including its level three neonatal intensive care unit.
The declining birth rate is driving the closure of delivery rooms across rural America. They’re expensive to operate and require a critical mass of births to justify.