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Legacy says Mount Hood Birth Center will close Friday but closure still lacks state approval

Legacy announced the March 17 closure in January, but state officials say the hospital could be subject to regulatory action if it goes through with the plan.

GRESHAM, Ore. — Oregon Health Authority released a statement Sunday regarding Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center’s request for a waiver that would allow it to discontinue maternity services at its Family Birth Center stating.

"Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is highly concerned about reports that maternity patients at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center are being redirected to other Legacy hospitals such as Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel. OHA has not granted Legacy’s waiver and is in the process of reviewing Legacy’s responses to the many questions OHA posed to Legacy about its waiver request. OHA received Legacy’s responses late on Friday, March 17. OHA has been very clear with Legacy that it cannot cease providing required maternity services at its Family Birth Center without receiving OHA approval of a waiver," the agency said in a statement. 

OHA also mentioned that they plan to look into reports that Legacy has ceased providing maternity services. 

On March 15, Legacy Health said that it will follow through with a previously announced plan to close the Family Birth Center at the Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham March 17, but the news drew a swift rebuke from Oregon health officials who said the provider has not received state approval for the closure.

Legacy Mount Hood's state-issued General Hospital license requires it to provide maternity services, according to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Closing the birth center requires a waiver from OHA, and the state health agency said Wednesday that Legacy's waiver request is still under review.

"If Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center discontinues maternity services prior to OHA making a decision on the waiver request, OHA will move forward with appropriate regulatory actions," the agency said in a statement.

Last week, Legacy Health told KGW that the hospital did not plan to request approval to close the Family Birth Center.

"Our goal was to transition the center to a new care model that continues to deliver safe, quality care in a new, financially viable model," the hospital said in a statement. 

Legacy Health said it could not identify a model that met all the criteria for Legacy and its providers.

"While we evaluated other approaches, we saw an unanticipated number of staffing vacancies and voluntary departures at the Family Birth Center. As a result, we had to make the difficult decision to apply for a wavier with the Oregon Health Authority," the hospital said. 

OHA said it sent Legacy a letter on March 2 warning that closing the facility without permission could put the hospital at risk of state sanctions, including possible suspension of Legacy Mount Hood's General Hospital license.

The agency followed up with an email on March 13 in which it requested additional information to complete its review of Legacy's waiver request. The review cannot be completed without the additional information, OHA said Wednesday, and there is currently no timeline for completion.

In an earlier FAQ posted to its website, Legacy acknowledged that its waiver application might still be under review on March 17, but said the birth center won't have the necessary staff to deliver babies after that date, so ambulances will begin diverting pregnant patients to other hospitals.

Legacy said Wednesday that patients in east Multnomah County can go to the Family Birth Center at Randall Children's Hospital in North Portland for labor and delivery services. The Women's Health clinic at Mount Hood Medical Center will continue to provide prenatal and gynecologic care.

Credit: KGW
The closure of the Legacy Mount Hood Family Birthing Center means that patients who would previously have given birth at the Gresham facility will now need to travel to Randall Children's Hospital, roughly half an hour away.

"It is upsetting to me, frankly, that Legacy announced the closure of this birthing center in January, and didn’t even apply for the waiver until March," said Rep. Zach Hudson, whose district covers Troutdale, Fairview and parts of Gresham. "That indicates to me that they were really not thinking through the ramification of this closure on the community."

Rep. Hudson, alongside two other state lawmakers, called on OHA this week to deny the waiver request. 

"I do not think that they meet the requirements for that waiver," he said. "They would need to show that the health impacts on the community are able to be met in some other way, and I don’t find that to be true."

News of the closure plan drew heavy pushback from residents and elected officials in Gresham and Troutdale last month, with some expressing hope that they might be able to reverse the decision before Legacy's March 17 deadline.

At a listening session hosted by Gresham City Council president Sue Piazza and Troutdale councilor Geoffrey Wunn, residents praised the quality of the Gresham center and argued that switching to Randall Children's Hospital would add significantly more travel time for patients, some of whom are already traveling in from far east of Mount Hood Medical Center.

"This is a huge loss and disappointment to our city ... today Gresham is the 4th largest city in Oregon, we are the most diverse and have a large underserved population," Piazza wrote in an email to KGW last month. "Gresham and our neighboring cities of Sandy, Troutdale, Fairview and Wood Village need Legacy Mt. Hood to reconsider this decision."

Legacy's initial closure announcement blamed the decision on a shortage of workers and financial losses. In its online FAQ, Legacy said the Gresham facility was an outlier among its six hospitals because of its relatively low number of births, ranging from 700 to 1,000 per year.

The facility uses a care model that requires 24/7 staffing by an obstetrics doctor, a practice that Legacy said is usually only used at birth centers with at least 1,500 annual births. The company said it tried to switch the facility to a less-costly care model, but was unable to find an approach that "met all the criteria for Legacy and our providers."

The Oregonian reported that four of the birth center's seven doctors quit over dissatisfaction with the restructuring plans, making the closure unavoidable.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the response from the Oregon Health Authority.

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