Nursing shortage forces Texas hospital to scale back labor and delivery services

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A nursing shortage has forced Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine, Texas, to intermittently shut down its labor and delivery unit, according to Kaiser Health News

Physicians who work at the facility said Big Bend Regional has shut down its labor and delivery unit for four- to five-day stretches. According to the physicians, Big Bend said the unit would be open Monday mornings to Thursday mornings until more nurses are hired.

If Big Bend Regional Medical Center's labor and delivery unit is closed, physicians are directed to send patients to the next closest hospital, which is more than an hour away. 

"To divert these ambulances at least another 60 miles away, it's asking for more deliveries to happen en route to the hospital, and potentially poor maternal or neonatal outcomes," Adrian Billings, MD, a family physician who delivers babies at Big Bend Regional, told Kaiser Health News.

However, Big Bend Regional said when the unit is shut down it will send obstetrics patients elsewhere unless the baby's arrival is imminent. In that case, the patient would deliver the baby in the emergency room, according to the report. 

Big Bend Regional, which delivered 136 babies last year, told Kaiser Health News it is "working feverishly to ensure adequate staffing levels in the coming weeks."

The hospital is working to fill 10 nursing positions in the labor and delivery unit.

"When our hospital is on diversion for elective OB patients, we communicate in advance with nearby emergency transport services and acute care providers to ensure continuity of care," Big Bend Regional said.

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