ASHTABULA — The healthcare landscape in Ashtabula County is about to change on two major fronts.

The ACMC Healthcare System Board of Directors has voted to permanently close the hospital's 16-bed Skilled Nursing Unit. The unit, located on the third floor of the hospital, has been vacant since late March as part of ACMC’s plan to accommodate a surge of inpatients impacted by the COVID-19 virus.

At the same time, hospital officials announced that ACMC's Maternity Suite will close by Aug. 1 after the ACMC Board also voted to discontinue delivery of babies. The hospital plans to continue to offer prenatal, postpartum and gynecological services (including surgery).

ACMC Healthcare System President and CEO Michael Habowski announced the changes in a press release on Wednesday afternoon.

“The decision to stop performing deliveries at ACMC was extremely difficult,” Habowski said. “This decision is about ensuring moms and babies have the highest level of care, a level that hospitals the size of ACMC can’t provide."

ACMC plans to have expectant mothers seen by an obstetrician at ACMC for office visits — including high-risk OB visits currently offered — then be referred to Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital for delivery.  ACMC is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic.

"ACMC is classified as a Level I nursery," Habowski said. "As such, we have very strict criteria established by the Ohio Department of Health that limits our deliveries. The plan to offer the option to deliver at Hillcrest will give expectant moms and babies that higher level of care. Because Hillcrest is classified as a Level III nursery, they meet the additional criteria to deliver higher-risk pregnancies.” 

Ashtabula County’s birth rate has remained relatively flat over the past 10 years, according to ACMC. Of the approximately 1,000 births to Ashtabula County residents each year, a five-year average shows that just 34 percent of those were delivered at ACMC. This amounts to less than one baby per day being born at ACMC. The other 66 percent of births to Ashtabula County residents take place at hospitals outside the county.

Other factors contributing to the decision include challenges to maintain state-mandated minimum staffing due to increased difficulty in recruiting experienced obstetric nurses and increased regulatory requirements.

Several factors contributed to the decision to close the SNU. Those factors include Ashtabula County’s declining population, the number of long-term care facilities in the county, a pattern of volume decreases based on Medicare and private insurers’ requirements and the reduced need for intensive inpatient care as surgeries like knee and hip replacements continue to move more and more to the outpatient setting. 

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