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Welcome to The Kicker from Carolina Public Press, a North Carolina news show bringing you conversations with journalists, sources and newsmakers from across the state.
In this episode, Carolina Public Press Managing Editor Frank Taylor talks about the elimination of labor and delivery services at rural North Carolina hospitals, most recently at Cherokee County’s only hospital, in Murphy, where OB/GYN services are also being cut.
Carolina Public Press reported extensively on similar cuts at multiple facilities in rural mountain counties being operated by Asheville-based Mission Health. That CPP investigative project, done in partnership with Huffpost, found serious concerns about the safety and health of women in the affected communities. Additional reporting by other news organizations, such as North Carolina Health News, has looked at essentially the same trend in other parts of North Carolina.
An interesting feature of both the Cherokee County closure and the earlier Mission closures is that they involved local hospitals taken over by bigger regional companies. Erlanger, which took over in Murphy, is based in Chattanooga, while Mission is based in Asheville. Although there’s been substantial concern about the priorities of for-profit health companies taking over nonprofit ones, such as has recently happened with Mission’s acquisition by HCA, that isn’t a factor in these cases. Erlanger is a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. At the time of its labor and delivery closures in Macon, Transylvania and Mitchell counties in 2017, Mission Health was still a nonprofit.
The loss of labor and delivery and other women’s health services may be especially acutely felt in rural areas, where patients sometimes have to drive more than an hour to another facility. Erlanger’s statement announcing the change emphasized access to its medical flight service, but the company has not promised to cover the additional cost.
Road travel in winter is especially concerning for patients living in mountain areas that may be isolated with limited and difficult roads, subject to icy or impassable conditions at the very time someone needs emergency medical attention due to a difficult pregnancy.
The hospital companies consistently cite changing rural demographics and costs when announcing reduction of services. What they don’t emphasize are their own earlier promises. In the case of Erlanger, when it acquired the Murphy facility in early 2018, it promised an expansion of services and better access to specialists.
About The Kicker
The Kicker is a production of Carolina Public Press. It also airs weekly at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on WPVM radio 103.7 FM in Asheville. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contact the staff of Carolina Public Press about The Kicker.