After almost a century of delivering babies in Pasco, Lourdes Health Network is closing its obstetrics department and laying off 50 to 65 people.
Some of those jobs will be lost when Lourdes also closes its Connell clinic.
The changes are being made as a "course correction" because of Lourdes' projected budget, said hospital CEO John Serle. The fiscal year ends at the end of June.
Officials said the cuts are a reflection of what is going on in health care across the country, as a result of forced budget cuts known as sequestration and coming changes because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"In the nearly 100 years the hospital has been here, health care has changed dramatically, and we have learned for a century to morph and change," said Connie Gillispie, Lourdes chief development officer. "As some services are shrinking, others are growing."
In a few weeks, for example, Lourdes plans to open a new joint and spine center to help patients recovering from joint replacements and major back surgeries.
While Lourdes will continue to offer outpatient pre- and post-natal services at its west Pasco facility, 7425 Wrigley Drive, off Road 68, expectant mothers will have to go to Kadlec Regional Medical Center or Kennewick General Hospital to deliver babies after June 28.
"Our plan is to partner with other hospitals in the area and have our OBs deliver babies at their facilities," Serle told the Herald.
As a result, about 24 employees in the Lourdes Medical Center's obstetrics department will lose their jobs. And up to 41 other employees could be laid off because of budget cuts elsewhere in the system, Serle said. Laid-off employees will be able to apply for open positions elsewhere at Lourdes.
Serle said the Connell clinic has suffered because of competition from a nearby Federally Qualified Health Center.
"We just can't see continuing to operate that clinic in competition with the federal government," he said.
In January 2012, Lourdes laid off 19 people. While those included a number of administrative positions, Serle said the new layoffs are across the board, including nurses and support staff.
The hospital has about 800 employees.
Serle said the obstetrics department, where about 400 babies are delivered annually, was eliminated because it is a service that is duplicated more in the Tri-Cities than others.
Conversely, Serle said the new joint and spine center will be unmatched in the Tri-Cities.
The hospital, which is licensed for 95 beds, is considering opening the new facility in the second floor area now used by the obstetrics department because it is directly across from the rehabilitation unit.
Pasco attorney Tom Roach, whose mother, Patricia, was among the first babies ever born at Lourdes in 1921, also is a former board member at the hospital. He was born there, as were six of his eight siblings and two of his four children.
"It just seems like with the problems with health care and the way it is changing these days, it surprises me, but it doesn't surprise me," he said.
While Lourdes continues the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph who founded it in 1916, Roach said it also has to pay the bills.
"It's about the bottom line and keeping things operating," he said. "If you're not making any money and you're out of business, you're not helping anybody."
His sister-in-law, LeeAnn Roach, said she is worried because Lourdes always has taken in expectant mothers who lacked insurance or a way to pay for services.
"That's the part that Patricia loved about the hospital. Their mission was unique and how they fulfilled the mission," said LeeAnn, who worked for 10 years as a nurse at Lourdes.
Serle said that, while he can't speak for the other hospitals, they take in a significant number of patients who can't pay and do not turn people away.
Along with orthopedics, the hospital will continue to expand in other areas such as treatment of respiratory diseases, urology and the digestive system.
And Serle said it is offering a robotic system that allows a doctor at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane to work with stroke patients in Pasco.
w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom