FORTUNA- Hundreds of people packed the room and lined up to voice their concerns over the possible closure of Redwood Memorial's maternity unit.
"Many people came before me and I agreed with everything that they were saying. The concerns about access of care, the cost of travel, the dangers of travel when you are in labor."
And these were just few of several concerns that the community has. They are worried if the maternity unit closes, that the rural outskirts of Fortuna and the southern half of Humboldt county will be ill-served.
"People having to travel an extra 15 miles beyond Fortuna to get to the hospital so we worry about babies coming out on the way, we worry about moms who are sick needing to get to and not getting there in time," said Redwood Memorial Hospital Midwife Stephanie Stone.
Hospital officials cite recruitment as the reason why they are looking to close the unit. Executive Vice President of the Northern Region for St. Joseph said,
"It has been a challenge for us, we have had a lot of turnover, we have had physicians leave the community and sometimes it is challenging to recruit physicians here."
But others disagree, and believe if recruitment efforts were stronger, a solution could be possible,
"We need to tailor the recruitment to that 5 or 10 percent of doctors that would love to be here," said
Right now there is one OBGYN in Fortuna and if the maternity unit shuts its doors, an option on the table would be to consolidate its services to Eureka's St. Joseph hospital. Stone said it is not a financial issue, and the maternity unit should stay,
"Overall the hospital in Fortuna is an extremely successful well-functioning hospital and makes profits, it is the Eureka hospital that is hurting."
The birthing unit has been at Redwood Memorial since it opened in 1957, but Klockenga says with a rural population and with fewer OBGYN’s in the area, it is hard to recruit and retain,
"if you have 300 deliveries in a community that won't support five physicians and their incomes, so if you try to recruit five physicians in that type of scenario none of them will be able to make a living and then they will turn around and leave again because there was not enough income for them."
Although no final decision was made Thursday, it is a decision that nurse Lewis said could either make or break a community,
"I want a decision to be made, I want a timeline to be defined so that we can have some security and build for the future, it is hard to build for the future when you don't even know if you have one."