Nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital claim Providence sabotaged the birthing center, luring staff to other facilities

Nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital claim that the hospital’s owner, Providence, is quietly carrying out plans to close the hospital’s beleaguered maternity ward, luring midwives from the facility to other hospitals it owns, including Santa Rosa Memorial.

More than half of the ward’s roster of 20 nurse midwives left for another hospital system, applied for jobs at Memorial or got a job at another facility in Petaluma Valley, according to a nurse midwife.

Providence, which owns Petaluma Valley and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospitals, has said it wants to close Petaluma Maternity due to staffing issues and problems securing anesthesia coverage.

Providence officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday and Thursday.

The proposal to close the maternity ward was rejected by the Petaluma Health Care District, which sold the facility to Providence in 2020 on the condition, among others, that the maternity ward remain open through 2025.

Critics of the proposed closure of the hospital’s popular Family Birth Center say it would create a 42-mile “maternity desert” between Marin General and Santa Rosa Memorial Hospitals, putting expectant mothers in southern Sonoma County at risk.

“That’s part of their game plan – keep running (the birthing center) to the ground. I don’t know how they could win in court,” said Jim Goerlich, president of the Petaluma Staff Nurse Partnership, the union representing the hospital’s nurses.

District officials say they are prepared to legally challenge any attempt to close the maternity hospital before 2025. Goerlich said union representatives met with hospital administrators in late February to discuss staffing issues related to Providence’s proposal.

In a letter Goerlich sent to administrators after the meeting, he said he was “disappointed and frankly surprised that the hospital is actively trying to lure nurses (Petaluma Valley Hospital) out of our (Family Birth Center) by offering them other positions at (Santa Rosa Memorial) and hospitals (Rainha do Vale).

Goerlich called these job offers premature and should only be made in case the birthing center actually closes.

“Attracting them to other facilities further undermines (Petaluma Valley Hospital’s) overall ability to provide safe care to our patients and also undermines Providence’s legal obligation to keep the (birth center) open,” Goerlich said in her letter. .

Providência proposed closing the unit at the end of last year. Laureen Driscoll, chief executive of the Northern California region for Providence, said a health staffing crisis made it difficult to recruit midwifery providers and anesthesia coverage for the facility.

During a health district public meeting on Feb. 15, Driscoll said, “Not allowing me to close this program, which I cannot safely manage, will disrupt service and care for patients, which I feel is far more threatening to health. . and well-being of community members than having a consistently staffed service. We are in a health crisis right now for hiring staff globally.”

But the union insists Providence could successfully hire the Petaluma maternity unit if it made the necessary financial investment, including offering more money to certified nurse anesthetists. Former nurse anesthetists claimed they were significantly underpaid.

Goerlich said hospital administrators say Providence is offering Petaluma birthing center staff positions at other Providence facilities because they don’t want to lose them to other hospital systems such as Sutter Health or Kaiser Permanente.

Instead, he said, Providence is creating a “self-actualization” dynamic, in which birth center staff worried about the facility’s future are looking elsewhere for work. “The hospital could just secure its positions here,” Goerlich said.

Sheri Buda, an obstetric nurse at the birthing center, said that since Providence announced it wanted to close the facility, five of the 20 maternity nurses had worked at other hospitals, mainly Sutter and Kaiser.

“Five more were interviewed at the Memorial that I know of,” said Buda. “And some nurses were interviewed at different facilities in Petaluma Valley.

Nurses, she said, are taking jobs elsewhere because “they’re scared and they have to support their families, so they’re trying to stay ahead of it — they love and support our unit, but they say, ‘I have to go somewhere. solid place and I need to land somewhere solid.’”

Jimmy Huynh, an emergency department nurse at Petaluma Valley Hospital, said hospital administrators are beginning to offer classes for certification in neonatal resuscitation, an emergency procedure administered to newborns who “just come out of the womb are not breathing.” .

Nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital claim Providence sabotaged the birthing center, luring staff to other facilities

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