State lawmakers take action over Gresham Legacy Birth Center closure

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 5:08 PM PDT
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SALEM, Ore. (KPTV) - A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Salem are outraged at Legacy Medical Group’s choice to close its birthing center in East Multnomah County.

On Tuesday, House Bill 3592 was presented in a public hearing at the State Capitol, and elected officials are hoping it will have an impact if it becomes law.

State law requires the Oregon Health Authority to grant a waiver to Legacy Mount Hood Medical in order for it to close its birthing center, but OHA says that has not happened in this case. Rather, Legacy closed the doors of the birthing center on its own.

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The bill would require the OHA to study how closing a birthing center would impact historically under-served communities like people of color, immigrants, and those with low incomes in that respected area before granting such a waiver.

“That really needs to be a consideration when OHA is considering the question of whether  to allow Legacy or any hospital to discontinue a service,” said Rep. Zach Hudson, a cosponsor of the bill, and a Democrat representing the Troutdale and Gresham area where the birthing center is located.

An advisory from Hudson’s office said  Legacy Health leaders were expected to testify at a hearing Tuesday, but they did not show up. Legacy Health has claimed the birthing center closed due to staffing issues, but Hudson says he learned the whole story after meetings with Legacy representatives.

“Further discussions led to the fact that they did have a model with plenty of staff until they chose to change how they staffed the facility,” said Hudson. “Upon doing so a number of OBs said this new care model is not safe and we can’t support it.”

Also at the hearing in Salem Tuesday was Jennifer Suarez, a current emergency department nurse at Legacy Mount Hood. Suarez shared unsettling testimony about how Legacy is now directing mothers in labor who show up to give birth in the emergency room.

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“This is not a suitable environment for a laboring patient, nor does the emergency department have the physical capacity as we’re treating many of our patients in the lobby and hallways,” said Suarez. “Additionally, the emergency department does not have the necessary tools such as fetal monitoring equipment or training, and without this we will not know the condition of the unborn baby.”

As of Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority says it is still looking into the closure of the birthing center, and is not commenting on this pending legislation.