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Births at Valley Medical Center down after opening of birth center in Auburn

Dr. Bob Thompson and Judy Roudebush of Valley Medical Center aren’t concerned about a dip in births. - Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter
Dr. Bob Thompson and Judy Roudebush of Valley Medical Center aren’t concerned about a dip in births.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

Valley Medical Center is reporting a 20 percent decrease in births at its hospital since MultiCare acquired Auburn Regional Medical Center in October 2012.

Valley officials call the decrease a blip, not a trend and they feel they can rise above with increased services and patient access to care.

In October 2012, the switch moved MultiCare doctors, who had previously delivered babies at Valley for years, to start delivering at Auburn Regional Medical Center.

“So we have seen a drop that was anticipated once the acquisition was completed,” said Dr. Bob Thompson, vice president of physician relations at Valley. “So it wasn’t a surprise.”

Valley still has more than 300 deliveries a month compared to MultiCare Auburn’s 110 deliveries a month. But Auburn’s numbers are up from 40 deliveries a month before MultiCare took over the facility.

“We have brought Auburn into a MultiCare practice and standardized approach,” said Christi McCarren. She is the vice president of MultiCare’s Careline administration and oversees the birth centers.

“It’s a collaborative approach that decreases practice variations and promotes best practices for OB patients,” McCarren said.

MultiCare spent about $950,000 to get staff up to speed and for upgrades at the new Auburn Medical Center.

“MultiCare added Auburn to its system because we have always wanted to be able to meet all of our patients’ health-care needs, including access to inpatient facilities and a birth center, close to their homes in South King County,” said Marce Edwards, MultiCare spokesperson, via email. “MultiCare has had clinics and doctors in South King County for decades, and those providers now use Auburn Medical Center as their hospital. That includes the obstetricians in the area as well as other specialties.”

MultiCare’s obstetrics department is trying to offer innovative ways for patients to receive care. One service they’re marketing is virtual visits via video chat between pregnant women and their healthcare providers. The service recently allowed a solider in Afghanistan to witness his wife’s ultrasound procedure with a doctor. These types of visits have taken off in the last two years, McCarren said.

The virtual visits are MultiCare’s attempt at “trying to increase access and make the experiences more personable to (families),” she said.

Another marketing push the MultiCare system is putting forth is offering its pediatric services as part of its birth and delivery package. MultiCare leverages its services by offering care at its MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Its neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU is also located at Tacoma General Hospital.

This pitch to expecting mothers that may require NICU services at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center makes some Valley officials skeptical. The pitch does not make sense logistically to Valley officials because MultiCare’s Level IIIb NICU is at Tacoma General Hospital, not Auburn.

“The model of care here is putting together a team of clinicians, who are available in-house 24/7 to address any potential emergency issues related to moms coming in and moms’ babies,” said Thompson of Valley’s services.

Valley prides itself on having a Level III NICU at the hospital and also growing numbers of clients in their southend clinics in Kent, Covington and Maple Valley. Officials hope the combination of the NICU and the clinics will sway expecting mothers their way.

Valley Medical still has a high volume of births a year. The hospital projects a 3,600-birth minimum per year and had as many as 4,000 births a year in their birth center.

“The reduction in volume that we have seen since the abrupt transition of MultiCare’s patients south isn’t in any way a significant drop from us from the standpoint of maintaining all of our services we’ve always had,” said Thompson.  “So it isn’t like, ‘Gosh now we don’t have enough patients, we need to change the breath or scope of all of our services’.”

Valley officials are hearing that patients want more obstetrical care in places like Kent, Maple Valley and Covington.

“So part of what we’ve been able to do in the last year is increase the number of physicians who deliver babies and have them have an office in those communities where they’re underserved,” said Thompson.

With a birth volume they count as one of the highest in the region, Valley staff doesn’t seem too concerned about the dip.

“So yes, we have lost, but I have every confidence that we’re going to regain that market share back because of who we are and what we offer in this community,” said Judy Roudebush, Valley’s vice president of Women’s and Children’s Services.

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