WATCH Photo Administrators of the Brooks-TLC hospital system say the aging building in Dunkirk is too expensive to maintain.

Since October, the Brooks-TLC hospital system no longer has an open maternity ward. This means pregnant women in the north end of Chautauqua County have had to go elsewhere to have their babies. A county public health department employee spoke about some of the challenges the families have faced.

“Transportation to and from Buffalo was difficult for many – no vehicles or vehicles in poor condition in winter, cost of gas and parking,” said Janelle C. Hartloff, a Registered Home Visiting Nurse for Maternal and Infant Health and Breastfeeding Support.

Relationships can also be a challenge. “Some mothers feel very separated from family and support people or other children during this very special time. There is also the fear linked to the lack of relationship with the delivery provider, if they received their prenatal care locally, then there is a loss of continuity of care during the labor and delivery phase”, she says.

Christine Schuyler, director of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, allowed Hartloff to discuss some of the things she observed in her post, but added that Hartloff’s comments should not be taken into consideration. account as to whether or not there should be a maternity ward at Brooks-TLC Hospital.

Schuyler herself declined to say whether she thinks there should be a birth unit in the Dunkirk area, either at the current facility or if a new hospital is being built. “As a local health department, we are not in a position of authority to comment on the services offered at any particular hospital,” she says.

On September 30, Brooks-TLC released a press release saying the hospital was “considerably tense” following a New York State mandate that took effect that week that required health care workers to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our pre-existing staffing concerns in support and OB services, as well as a national shortage of nurses, are further compounded by the vaccine mandate,” said Mary LaRowe, President and CEO of Brooks-TLC. “We were able to offset the immediate capacity constraints affecting each department to keep support services open. However, our OB department is significantly strained by a combination of staffing and tenure issues. Contingency planning for OB services is underway and in collaboration with our partners in Buffalo, particularly Oishei Children’s and with our local Obstetrics and Gynecology service providers.

A week later, the hospital issued another press release, stating that births will not take place in the obstetrics unit because the temporary emergency plan concerns patients arriving at the emergency room in active labor or when childbirth is imminent.

“The remaining OB staff are working to supplement the (emergency department) staff in urgent delivery situations,” LaRowe said Oct. 8. “Our on-call providers and pediatricians are available for consultation and to support emerging OB situations as they arise.”

Hartloff didn’t have numbers, but it appears families who would normally have traveled to Brooks-TLC traveled north to Mercy and Oishei in Erie County, and also out-of-state in Pennsylvania. to give birth at St. Vincent’s Family Birthing Center or OB Center Magee-Femmes at UPMC Hamot. Some women stay in the county and use OB/GYN care and deliver at UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown.

Currently, Brooks-TLC Hospital System is considering a new facility on Route 20 in Fredonia. The OBSERVER reported in March that if the new facility were to be built – the plan has been repeatedly delayed – it could do without a birthing unit due to staffing issues and the low number of births that had took place in Dunkirk before.

“We tried to recruit, which was extremely difficult” LaRowe said. “It’s not the ideal situation.”

Schuyler said the county is currently collecting data for the state Department of Health’s Community Health Assessment, which could help health officials understand the need. “All county hospitals, including Brooks/TLC, are partnering with us on this assessment and the resulting community health improvement plan. I expect improving maternal and child health will continue to be a designated priority area for Chautauqua County,” she says.

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