Healthcare workers at Laurel Regional Hospital's Maternal and Child Health department learned of imminent layoffs during an August 21 meeting between management and staff. During the tense meeting, nurses and service/maintenance workers were advised that the department is slated to close permanently on October 11, 2015.
The department closure will affect the unit's 32 labor and delivery nurses and 6 service/maintenance workers; all represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. According to hospital management, only 6 vacant positions exist for labor and delivery nurses throughout the Dimensions system. The union has yet to be informed of vacancies for the service and maintenance positions.
Hospital management announced that the closure will occur in stages. By October 7, maternity patients arriving at the hospital will be assessed in the emergency room and sent to Prince George's Hospital via EMS for further care. Beginning October 9, maternity patients will no longer be accepted at Laurel Hospital.
The maternity unit closure is the first step in a plan by Dimensions Healthcare System to drastically downsize and ultimately replace Laurel Regional Hospital. The proposal-announced in late July to the surprise of local elected officials, Laurel residents, and hospital staff-will eliminate most of the hospital's services and all but 30 medical/surgical beds, transforming the full-service hospital to an ambulatory care center which would ultimately be replaced with a brand new facility. The new facility, estimated to cost taxpayers $24 million, has yet to be approved by the state or county government.
Laurel residents and community groups have been vocal in their opposition to Dimensions' proposal. At a packed public forum on August 10 called by Mayor Craig Moe, dozens of residents testified on the need for a functional, full-service hospital in Laurel. The nearest hospitals are at least 10 miles away-which could seem like an eternity in an emergency situation.
"When I had my five children, Laurel Hospital wasn't here," said resident Linda Pohland. "Traffic now is worse than it used to be. If you were having a baby, it might be too far to give birth. I've lived without a hospital here, and I've lived with one here. Living with one is better."
Union representatives and elected officials contend that the hospital's lack of transparency during the planning and execution of the transition plan has reflected poorly on Dimensions, and vow to fight for accountability as they work in coalition with community allies to keep a full-service medical facility in the Laurel community.
"We understand that healthcare is changing, and we're not against that," said 1199SEIU Vice President Jennifer Epps. "What we don't appreciate is being kept in the dark about decisions that take good jobs and good healthcare out of the community with no plans to replace or improve them."
State Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk also expressed her frustration with the announcement. "I am disappointed at Dimensions for making this decision without consulting the community," she said. "Expectant mothers need accessible maternity care, and Laurel needs a full service hospital."
The caregivers being pushed out have also expressed concern--not only about their own futures, but about the health outcomes of the women and babies they've dedicated their careers to.
"This isn't fair to anyone," said Andrea Nagel, a labor and delivery nurse who has worked at the hospital for 16 years. "Obviously we're all worried about how we're going to find new jobs. But what about pregnant women who were expecting to give birth here after we shut down? Where are the pregnant women with little or no prenatal care going to deliver? There are a lot of unanswered questions."
For more on the Laurel Regional Hospital closure and to sign the petition to keep good jobs and healthcare in the community, visit www.WeCareforLaurel.org.