Babies won't be born at Palomar Health's Poway Medical Center come June
Palomar Health's Poway Medical Center opened in 1977 and at one point more than 3,500 babies were being born there every year. That number has been dropping. Now Palomar officials said it is closer to 800 a year — or about two newborns per day.
"Unfortunately the volume of births at Poway has diminished significantly," said Palomar Health's CEO Diane Hansen.
Hansen said around two births per day in Poway is not financially sustainable for the health system. She also said the birthing unit was in need of upgrades.
"Without it being viable and sustainable from a financial standpoint — it doesn’t make sense to make that investment until we know we’re going to have the volume to support it," Hansen said.
The birthing center in Poway is set to close in early June. Palomar Health officials said the services will then be transferred to their Escondido hospital.
"Part of this challenge has just been in staffing two units individually," Hansen said. "That’s the challenge. It’s the staffing, it’s the sustainability from a financial perspective, it’s how do we use our facilities and resources much smarter than we have in the past maybe."
Hansen said she is not willing to say the birthing center will never return in Poway. Palomar Health’s Chief Nurse Executive Melvin Russell said the two physicians that drive the majority of the births in Poway will be moving up to Escondido. He said everyone from the labor and delivery unit has an opportunity to stay with the company — whether that means training for another unit or moving to Escondido.
"Many of those nurses are going to be coming straight across the 15 (Interstate 15) to the Escondido campus," Russell said. "Just transitioning one day — I'm going to work here and the next day I’m going to work here — at a different facility."
Nurses in Poway are represented by the California Nurses Association. Their chief representative is Susan Adams, who is also a labor and delivery nurse in Escondido. She said the unit was caught off guard by the unexpected closure announcement earlier this year. Adams is happy to see Palomar officials are giving staff options to stay with the company, but she does worry about the extra drive for expecting mothers that will have to go to Escondido. It is about 11 miles away from Poway, and Adams said that distance can have a huge impact.
"That’s always a concern — we’ll probably see a few more stop and drops on the freeway — that is women giving birth before they arrive to us because we’re further away," Adams said.
Palomar Health's CEO said the labor and delivery department might not be going away for good in Poway, but Adams has questions about that.
"I'm just concerned if they think it might come back — what are all the hoops that the hospital system will have to go through to get it back," she said. "I think once they close it, it seems to me it’s really hard to get the wheels rolling again."
Paradise Valley hospital in National City closed their labor and delivery department in mid-2021, also citing a drop in demand. Hansen said many hospitals have to make tough financial decisions right now.
"Unfortunately that’s just the story of today," Hansen said. "As health systems struggle and try to maintain some financial viability — these are the decisions that have to be made."
Hansen said in Poway they are investing in a new intensive care unit and expanding the emergency department — she said those are their most in demand services. It is not certain that everyone who was going to have their babies in Poway will want to go to Escondido.
"That’s always the risk," Hansen said. "The idea is to provide the same experience in Escondido as Poway."
Hansen said Palomar Health has also lost several medical staff over the last few years in Poway. She added recruiting new physicians there has been challenging.