St. Margaret’s asked to craft a plan for 400 expectant moms after Peru hospital closure

State Sen. Rezin says smaller, rural hospitals are facing obstacles providing OB care

She's due in May and has 14 weeks to find a place to deliver her first child. Emily Schaub of La Salle said Monday at the Westclox building the recent closure of  St. Margaret's Health-Peru has left her scrambling to find a new OB unit and has her contemplating a move to the Rockford area.

Her baby is due in May and that means Emily Schaub has 14 weeks to figure out where she’s going to deliver her first child now St. Margret’s Health-Peru is closed.

The La Salle resident’s options aren’t great. The nearest hospital is 17 miles away – not close enough for comfort – and Schaub hasn’t ruled out moving to the Rockford area to be near family as well as an OB unit.

“I didn’t receive anything from my doctor and I don’t blame her or her staff – they are wonderful and I feel so bad for them,” Schuab said at a midday press conference Monday at the Westclox building, “but the hospital has done nothing to let me know what I should be doing.”

Schaub counts herself lucky on one count: She at least has time to plan.

“There are other women in this area who are further along than I am,” she said.

About 40 near-term women, according to the nurse manager at St. Margaret’s now-closed OB unit. And there are about 400 women who, like Schuab, will give birth before summer’s end and are likewise searching for options.

Local lawmakers summoned the Monday press conference imploring St. Margaret’s Health to at least work with the area’s expectant mothers and come up with a plan for pre-natal care and delivery.

One of the goals, they said, is to keep local mothers from making longer – and, by extension, more dangerous – trips to birthing centers in Ottawa (17 miles from St. Margaret’s), Morris (41 miles), Pontiac (52 miles) and Bloomington or Peoria (more than 60 miles).

Melissa Balma, director of obstetrics at St. Margaret’s Health-Peru, said she and her staff want to help Schaub and other expectant mothers but hospital officials sprung the suspension of the Peru facility on them without warning.

“I was not contacted at all,” Balma said. “I learned like everyone else the day of Jan. 20 mostly through Facebook and phone calls. They announced to the physicians that day at noon that the hospital in Peru would be closing, the OB unit as well.”

If that weren’t enough, Balma and her staff were given no guidance on what to tell the expectant mothers, who immediately and frantically began ringing hospital phones trying to confirm the suspension and then asking who would deliver their babies.

State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) called the entirely closure “ill-advised” and “shortsighted,” though she acknowledged the fiscal difficulty attached to providing OB services. St. Margaret’s reported a $5,000 loss per birth.

“This is an obstacle that smaller and rural hospitals throughout the state and nation are facing when it comes to providing these critical services,” Rezin said. “However, providing these services is, or at the very least should be, about more than making a profit. It’s about doing the right thing for the surrounding community that the medical facility is supposed to serve.”

Rezin said she and state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, plan to meet again with St. Margaret’s officials and that they want more and better answers about the suspension as well as a clearer sense of where to from here. (Rezin did say she knows St. Margaret’s has been in contact with other healthcare networks, though she declined to provide specifics or name names.)

Yednock said had St. Margaret’s alerted them sooner to the possibility of a suspension of closure, “maybe we have could have helped stave this off.”

St. Margaret’s said the Jan. 28 suspension was brought on by the emergency provider severing its services.

While caring for expectant mothers is most urgent, city and regional officials are looking ahead to the future impact of closing the Peru facility and halting OB services.

Bill Zens, executive director for Illinois Valley Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, said IVAC members already are expressing concerns about the impact losing Peru and its OB unit will have on long-term economic development and retention as well as recruiting, which could become a problem soon.

“This is an Illinois Valley problem,” agreed Peru Mayor Ken Kolowski. “This isn’t just about Peru.”