Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said Friday it is ending labor and delivery services at Lexington Medical Center by June 30.
Those services will be available at the Birth Center on the main Wake Forest Baptist campus in Winston-Salem,
That 100,000-square-foot center opened in July with 51 private patient rooms, including at least two set aside for twins, and a neonatal intensive care unit.
The decision was made Thursday by Wake Forest Baptist and the Lexington's hospital's board of directors.
“We hope those in the Lexington community understand that this was a difficult, but necessary, decision that will help us better meet the needs of people here in Davidson County,” Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, Wake Forest Baptist's chief executive and Wake Forest School of Medicine dean, said in a statement.
About 24 positions — most of them in nursing — are affected by the ending of delivery services. The goal is to place those employees into other positions within the healthcare system.
Birthing services at hospitals in High Point and North Wilkesboro, which are also affiliated with Wake Forest Baptist, remain in place.
Those services have not been offered at Davie Medical Center in Bermuda Run, though Wake Forest Baptist officials said in 2007 that Davie mothers should be allowed to give birth in their home county.
In 2009, state regulators twice denied allowing a Davie hospital to offer those services. That decision came during the approval process for community hospitals in Bermuda Run and Clemmons.
Although the priority in the Lexington emergency department would be to treat the expectant mother and then transfer to a hospital with delivery services, medical staff would be able to deliver the baby if necessary.
Freischlag said that deliveries at Lexington "have steadily declined over the past 10 years — dropping to less than one birth per day."
According to N.C. Division of Public Health data for the first half of 2019, there were 158 births at Lexington for an average of 0.87 per day.
By comparison, Thomasville Medical Center — which is operated by Novant Health Inc. — had 308 births for an average of 1.7 per day.
Jon Applebaum, president and chief operating officer of the Thomasville hospital, said it has provided birthing services for more than 90 years. "We remain committed to providing top-quality care to all our patients," he said.
Meanwhile, Freischlag said the costs of providing delivery care have continued to rise.
"It became clear to us that we needed to refocus our efforts on expanding women’s health services that are most needed in the Lexington community,” she said.
Lillian Koontz, Davidson's health director, said she agreed the decision was best for patient care.
"Wake Forest Baptist Health will continue to provide prenatal care at the Women’s Center in Lexington. Internally, it will likely lengthen the office visit for patients, as we will have to explain the new process, prenatal care in Lexington, delivery in Winston Salem," she said.
Bill James, Lexington's president, said Wake Forest Baptist's commitment to the Lexington community includes spending $31.5 million on expanding surgical facilities.
"We now have the opportunity to increase the range of women’s health services offered so even more women of all ages can receive the care they need while remaining close to home," James said.
Before the Birth Center opened at Wake Forest Baptist, the hospital had, since 1977, handled only high-risk pregnancies and deliveries in conjunction with Brenner Children's Hospital.
Wake Forest Baptist had 11 such deliveries in the first half of 2019, compared with 3,208 low-risk deliveries at Forsyth Medical Center — the highest total for an individual hospital in the state.
Freischlag has said about half of births at Forsyth were handled by Wake Forest Baptist doctors prior to the opening of its birthing center.
The 1977 birthing agreement between Baptist and Forsyth Medical meant Forsyth Medical handled the majority of deliveries in the county. It led to a later agreement that allowed Wake Forest Baptist to operate a trauma center that covers Forsyth County and much of northwest North Carolina.
Freischlag said in July 2018 the discussion about opening the Birth Center centered on offering birthing services to Baptist employees.
However, she acknowledged the service would be available to all women in the region, particularly those who have a Wake Forest Baptist obstetrician.
Freischlag said Wake Forest Baptist believes “there are enough deliveries in the county annually to support two birthing centers.”
When Wake Forest Baptist confirmed its plans to resume birthing services in July, Dr. Stephen Motew, Forsyth’s top executive at the time, called the decision “surprising and disappointing.”
Motew later said he wanted to let the community know that Forsyth Medical would “continue to provide the same level of high quality, high complexity, established and complete spectrum of care for mothers and babies.”
“We are determined to compete and grow services at Forsyth Medical Center, especially in the category of women’s care and neonatal care,” he said.
That includes Forsyth stepping up marketing of its birthing services.
In December, Forsyth opened a new obstetrics emergency department that focuses on maternity services, particularly labor and deliveries.
The center, within the Maya Angelou’s Center for Women’s Health and Wellness, is staffed 24 hours a day by an OB/GYN physician and two nurses with other medical personnel available, including an operating room staff. It features eight exam rooms.
When asked if the Forsyth obstetrics emergency department was in response to the Wake Forest Baptist birthing center, Dr. Lewis Lipscomb, physician executive with Novant’s Women’s & Children’s Institute, said Monday that “planning began several years ago as part our commitment to continuous enhancement of services at Forsyth Medical Center.”
However, Novant said the obstetrics emergency department would “eliminate concern about where to go for emergency care if you are pregnant ... and monitor mothers and babies for any complications.”