Hundreds of pregnant women in western Victoria have been thrown into uncertainty by Epworth Healthcare’s “completely unexpected” proposal to close the maternity ward at its Geelong hospital.
“Stressing pregnant women … this is a stressful time of year and then to add to that they just haven’t even thought about their patients,” local Geelong mom Ash said of just one of the women booking her baby in for next year Epworth.
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She was due to give birth with obstetricians from Geelong Maternity Group (GMG), one of two obstetric practices treating patients outside the private hospital.
However, thanks to Monday’s announcement, her birth plan – and that of many other moms-to-be – is completely up in the air.
“To be honest I’m really disappointed,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.
The CEO of Epworth Healthcare Group, Dr. Lachlan Henderson said the proposal to close the ward was due to “continued staff shortages in Epworth Geelong’s delivery team”.
“Labour shortages in the nursing and midwifery sectors are evident worldwide and across Australia and our repeated, extensive efforts to recruit midwifery staff for Epworth Geelong have had limited success,” he said.
Consultations with affected employees and unions are ongoing and if a decision is made to close, March 1, 2023 will be the last day of operation for the unit. There are only four months left until then.
“We recognize this is a difficult time for our Epworth Geelong birth patients. We are actively working with our obstetricians to contact all affected patients to ensure they receive the support and information they need,” Henderson said.
In a letter from 7NEWS.com.au, GMG said it was “shocked and deeply disappointed” by the news, which it had received “without notice”.
“On Monday, November 28, 2022, at 8:05 a.m., at 11:00 a.m., doctors at Geelong Maternity Group received an invitation text message from the management team at Epworth Hospital,” read the letter, signed by all five GMG doctors.
“We were aware of the operational issues within the department, mainly related to the number of midwives and pediatric staff, and we had worked closely with the hospital management to find solutions to these issues.
“[Monday’s]decision to announce the closure of the unit was totally unexpected.”
GMG expects to be able to continue to serve all booked patients with a delivery date up to March 1, 2023.
The practice asked Epworth if it could continue to care for all of its current patients until July 2023, when all of them were expected to give birth – but that request was denied.
Unfortunately for Ash, her second child is due in April – just a month after the maternity ward was scheduled to close.
Since the announcement, she’s been in limbo, unsure of where she’ll actually give birth next year and if she’ll even have the same doctors she connected with during her first pregnancy.
“We paid for private health insurance … which is really expensive, right, we’re talking close to $400 a month just so we can have our baby in Epworth because we’ve had such a good experience with[our first child]and we.” wanted the same group of doctors.”
More than halfway through her pregnancy, the 33-year-old said she was frustrated by the extremely short notice Epworth gave doctors and patients.
“I’m so disappointed that Epworth, as a company, didn’t give at least nine months’ notice so that all patients who are currently enrolled to deliver babies can still have their babies,” she said.
Brit Selwood, wife of Geelong star Joel Selwood, is also due to give birth in Epworth Geelong the same week the maternity ward closes.
When she called the hospital to ask what to do about the shock news, she was told to find a new midwifery group.
“I think (Epworth has) failed a lot of patients. Committing to having a woman give birth at her hospital and then saying ‘no I’m sorry’ in three months time, I honestly can’t believe it, I can’t put it into words,” she told 7NEWS.
“Anyone giving birth in Geelong now has an uncertain future and (are) unsure of where they are going to have their baby, it’s just awful.”
GMG is now trying to find another hospital where patients can be treated. The only other private hospital in Geelong is St John of God, which has already taken in all patients from OGB Surf Coast, the other maternity practice that is being phased out in Epworth.
On Thursday, Epworth Healthcare interim chief executive Cameron Fuller said the hospital is working closely with Geelong’s public body, Geelong University Hospital, and its owner Barwon Health and St John of God, who he says have “the combined capacity.” to support additional births in the region”.
“The community can rest assured that we have a strong, existing partnership with our colleagues at Barwon Health and St. John of God, who have given and continue to give us incredible support during this time,” Fuller said.
“Surf Coast OGB has communicated that they feel well supported by both Epworth Geelong and St. John of God.”
Despite this, Ash said she is still concerned that there will not be enough space for GMG patients at St. John of God.
“It’s going to put tremendous pressure on these two hospitals (St John of God and University Hospital Geelong),” she said.
“I know that every hospital is overwhelmed at the moment with staff shortages and things like that, but to completely close down an entire maternity ward, that’s huge when there are only three hospitals in Geelong.”
As an overdue renovation at Geelong Public Hospital would coincide with her due date, Ash said her clear preference was to continue to keep her birth private.
If she doesn’t get to St. John of God, she has to go to Melbourne – more than an hour away.
“At this point, I don’t even know what the plan is for the obstetricians, like, I’m really scared that, you know, what if (GMG) decides that (they) are going to disband as a company and say You all (your) patients that they should find another obstetrician?” She said.
“I’ve had so many complications after having (my daughter) so I want the same doctors. I’m really nervous, that’s probably my biggest concern.”
GMG has given no indication that it will close its practice.
In response to the planned closure, a petition to save the maternity ward was launched.
In just three days, the petition has already surpassed its original goal of 10,000 signatures and is now aiming for 15,000 signatures.
https://7news.com.au/news/vic/expectant-victorian-mothers-suddenly-left-to-find-new-maternity-ward-with-unexpected-closure-at-epworth-geelong-c-9025307 Expectant Victorian mothers suddenly left the hospital to find a new maternity ward with unexpected closure in Epworth Geelong