Wyden, Merkley call on officials to keep Baker City hospital birth center open

Monday, July 10, 2023

By: Staff

Baker City Herald

Oregon’s U.S. senators are urging Saint Alphonsus Health System to keep the birth center open at the Baker City hospital for at least six months while they work to find solutions to nurse staffing shortages that prompted officials to announce the center would close July 30.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, sent a letter Monday, July 10 to Odette Bolano, president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health Systems, which operates hospitals in Baker City, Ontario, Nampa and Boise.

The senators asked for a response to their letter by July 17, citing the “urgency of this situation and the imminent closure of the maternity center.”

Hospital officials announced June 22 that the birth center in Baker City would close July 30. Saint Alphonsus Health System is part of Trinity Health, based in Michigan.

Hospital officials cited the difficulty in finding enough nurses to staff the center, as well as a recent decline in the number of babies delivered there.

The senators are calling on Saint Alphonsus to keep the birth center open “to let the Eastern Oregon community work with federal and state agencies to develop alternative solutions,” according to a Monday press release.

In their letter to Bolano, Wyden and Merkley wrote: “We have heard from doctors and nurses, parents and expectant parents, and large Baker City-based employers about the importance of having maternity care and birthing services available in Baker City for the residents’ safety and wellbeing. We urge you to continue labor and delivery services for an additional six months while the community works to fill the substantial gap in local maternity care. In the meantime, we have identified several resources to help you keep your maternity center open.”

In their letter, the senators offered federal, state and local nursing resources to help Saint Alphonsus continue to provide safe and stable maternity care beyond July 30, including gathering financial support from large employers such as Beef Northwest Feeders, streamlining licensing for RNs, and deploying nurses from the federal United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

“The community highly values the maternity care provided by the hospital and is willing to work with you to keep the services in place,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The hospital’s two advisory boards, and the Oregon Nurses Association, which represents nurses who work in the birth center, have all publicly opposed the July 30 closure.