LINCOLN, Maine — A sharp decline in the number of babies born in the Lincoln Lakes region since 2009 and the loss of three doctors will force Penobscot Valley Hospital to end its newborn delivery services on May 1, except in emergencies, officials said Wednesday.
There had been 58 babies delivered at Penobscot Valley this year as of Wednesday, compared to 100 born at the Lincoln hospital in 2009, hospital spokeswoman Kristie Libby said.
“Our community just doesn’t have a sufficient number of newborns to sustain this service. That fact, combined with the recent physician decisions, leaves us no other choice,” PVH Chief Executive Officer Gary Poquette said in a statement.
Three doctors at Penobscot Valley and at Health Access Network of Lincoln, a medical center that serves 19 Lincoln-area towns, are retiring or leaving, Health Access Network CEO Bill Diggins said.
Penobscot Valley Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Samer Sbayi, who handles about half of the hospital’s Cesarean section deliveries, will be leaving within a few months to be closer to his family in Toronto. Dr. Amin El-Mallawani, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Health Access Network, will be retiring next year and Dr. Sarah Irving is moving her family practice to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor on May 1, Libby and Diggins said.
The remaining Health Access family practice physicians, Drs. Marco Cornelio and Catherine Bouche, will stay at Health Access Network but no longer handle labor and delivery of babies at Penobscot Valley, Diggins said.
“Anything less than four physicians capable of practicing obstetrics in this area is logistically unsustainable. Anything less than four means that they are on-call every other night or every third night,” Diggins said.
The remaining general and Cesarean section surgical workload in this area is not heavy enough to draw an obstetrician and general surgeon, Diggins said.
“A typical recruitment [of a doctor] that is successful can take 12 to 18 months,” Libby said. “We have seen the aging demographics of the area. With the current economic position of the town, people are moving away to find jobs.”
Lincoln’s population declined from 5,587 in 1990 to 5,085 in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.
The hospital also had lost money with its delivery services, but Libby said she didn’t know how much or for how long.
Health Access Network will continue to provide prenatal care through its family practice physicians and Penobscot Valley will still offer prenatal testing and ultrasounds. The hospital’s Emergency Division will keep equipment on-hand for initial care of a newborn and mother, Dr. David Dumont, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said.
Lincoln-area women having babies on a non-emergency basis will have to travel to Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, and Houlton Regional Hospital. Mayo Regional is about 47 miles away; EMMC, about 50; and Houlton Regional is 80 miles from Lincoln.
The hospital closest to Lincoln, Millinocket Regional, discontinued its delivery services years ago, an official there said.
Penobscot Valley’s board of directors agreed to end delivery services during a meeting on Monday. The board of directors at Health Access Network on Nov. 19 agreed to cease trying to recruit an obstetrician, Diggins said.
Health Access Network and Penobscot Valley Hospital officials will hold a community forum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln to discuss the closure and provide information to patients on the transition of care.