Placeholder Image Signs from an earlier rally sit outside the Board meeting room
photo credit: KRCB

Tensions continues to rise over plans to close the maternity center at Petaluma Valley Hospital, as Providence and the Petaluma Healthcare District Board continue to fight over the future of the Family Birth Center. 

Board Vice President Elece Hempel said the board feels as though the decision has been dictated to them.

"We were summoned to a meeting, we were told in that meeting what the plans were," Hempel said. "We asked for conversation. That did not happen."

Tempers flared at the packed meeting in a north Petaluma business park. That's as the public and Petaluma’s Healthcare District Board members once again voiced consternation and anger at Providence’s unilateral decision to close Petaluma Valley Hospital’s family birth center.

Those angered included nurse practitioner and board member Cheryl Negrin.

"My trust is gone," Negrin said. "I can't trust you at all. I'm sorry. I just can't."

Negrin confronted Laureen Driscoll, chief executive for Providence’s Northern California region, over the closure.

"Do you care about those things that they're saying?" Negrin asked.

"I care very much about the program and the staff, which is why I've asked to engage in a collaborative process," Driscoll responded. "Cause by not allowing me to close this program, which I cannot staff safely, will cause interrupted service and care for patients."

A combative Driscoll clashed with members of the press.

"Am I being videotaped? Driscoll asked. Seriously recording?

"It's a public meeting," Board members and attendees said in response to Driscoll. "This is a public meeting."

"Really by a public person," Driscoll said. "I'm allowed to be videotaped? I understand the zoom, but by somebody individually. I'm allowed to be videotaped."

In addition to clashing with the board and their negotiator.

"I have asked for collaborative discussion," Driscoll said. "This is not conducive to that. I'm not being asked questions that I think are reasonable and fair."

Driscoll pointed to an alleged inability to retain new anesthetic services as a safety issue which necessitated the birth center’s closure.

But Karyn Karp, a certified nurse anesthetist at the center, speaking before the meeting, said management has consistently neglected anesthetics.

"Ever since our older group was retained by the hospital for OB services, our group had never seen a raise and so we were being far underpaid what the prevailing rates were, probably about a third of what our colleagues make, and so we were never able to recruit," Karp said.

A status quo which Karp said could not be maintained.

"Little by little our group got smaller and smaller and smaller, and finally I was the only one that was left of the full-time provider in the group," Karp said. "And it got to the point where I just, I couldn't handle the amount of coverage that was required and so I spoke it over with my boss and we gave our 90 day notice and we let the contract expire on January 31."

Placeholder ImageA packed meeting of Petaluma's Healthcare District Board Wednesday
photo credit: KRCB


The termination of dedicated anesthetic services at the birth center has been particularly detrimental to the hopes of keeping it open.

Without anesthetic services, two of the center’s obstetrics doctor’s have subsequently announced their intent to terminate their contracts in May, according to Driscoll - a figurative nail in the center's coffin.

Whether or not Providence will close the Family Birth Center at Petaluma Valley Hospital remains to be seen. Providence declines to conduct safety, financial, service, resource, and special population impact assessments for the closure.

With a provision in the 2020 sale contract guaranteeing the maternity center stays open for at least five years, Jim Goerlich of Petaluma’s staff-nurse partnership union said the community’s desires cannot be ignored.

"After hearing what the board had to say, hearing, what the, the people that were in attendance had to say, I don't see how Providence can cannot see the importance the community sees about keeping this open," Goerlich said. "No safety report. Come on. You know, so, yeah, I'm, I'm hopeful."

The one certainty from Wednesday’s meeting - repairing trust between Providence and Petaluma’s Healthcare District board will require serious work.

Board president Crista Nelson sought a pragmatic approach aimed at finding solutions with Providence's help, but expressed her doubts over a positive resolution. 

"Obviously the contract didn’t mean anything," Nelson said. "It’s not valued."

While board member Dr. Jeffrey Tobias took aim at what he sees as the hypocrisy of the situation.

"Well I’m going to end with a quote, and it’s probably not going to go over well but I’m going to do it anyway," Tobias said. "We speak the truth with courage and respect, to pursue authenticity with humility and simplicity. For any of you who are wondering where that comes from, it's the Providence Mission statement."

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