RIDGECREST, Calif. — After the announcement that Ridgecrest Regional Hospital is suspending their labor and delivery services, residents who need care became worried, because alternative options are hours away.
“I actually found out on Facebook.”
That’s Ridgecrest resident Tawnyia Op describing her experience in November. She was struggling to get an appointment with an obstetrician (OB), a doctor that specializes in childbirth.
“When I heard them say OBG’s I just freaked out, because I’m pregnant.”
The suspension of services is set to start on March 1st 2024 and is due to staffing challenges and financial restraints.
With the suspension, a mass layoff of 30 Ridgecrest Regional Employees comprised of 23 registered nurses, 2 OB techs, a unit secretary, 2 licensed vocational nurses and a manager.
Patients seeking an OB for a pregnancy are being referred to hospitals in Bakersfield, Apple Valley and Antelope Valley. All of these options are over an hour drive from Ridgecrest.
“Having to travel that far while pregnant is ridiculous, because you are uncomfortable anyways.”
Op says early in her pregnancy she had an appointment in Bakersfield.
“I went all the way to Bakersfield for my appointment, I got there and they told me they had to cancel my appointment. I just wasted two hours, gas I didn’t have to waste, miles on my car I didn’t have to waste, for them to tell me my appointment was canceled.
After initially being told they weren’t accepting new patients, she was able to get an appointment at Ridgecrest Regional with an OB, but her due date would be after the suspension of services.
She learned at Ridgecrest Regional that date wouldn’t come.
“I had my miscarriage here at the hospital, they were the ones who diagnosed me with a molar pregnancy, so that’s why I have to be seen for the next six months. They said that because it could turn into a tumor or cancer, they have to make sure everything is out of me and my hormone level goes down.”
This comes as many rural hospitals are struggling – Ridgecrest Regional had to close their Cancer Center last year.
Ridgecrest Regional lists provider shortages, inadequate reimbursement for services, lack of funding to deal damages from the 2019 earthquake, and loss of volume for some services post-covid as ongoing challenges.
“It’s actually making me question whether I want to get pregnant again.”
According to an analysis by the US Department of Health and Human Services, California will have a shortage of more than 1,100 obstetricians by 2023.
Op will still need care when labor and delivery services shut down, and it’s unclear if she’ll be able to get that at Ridgecrest Regional. A representative for the hospital told me they have established an “OB Navigation Team” to coordinate transitional and continuing care with existing patients. A primary reason they had to shut down the services is they are not able to guarantee that an OB will be on-site 24/7, which is a requirement for Labor and Delivery services.
A representative from Ridgecrest Regional told 23ABC they are working on recruiting key providers in specialty areas in order to avoid having to suspend any other service lines.
Op told me she and her boyfriend were trying to have a child, but now it’s not clear if that’s going to happen.
“I don’t know, it’s really making me think of probably not having another one, because I don’t want to have to deal with that travel, it’s too much.”