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Placeholder Image photo credit: Noah Abrams/KRCB
Picketers outside Petaluma Valley Hospital May 1, 2023.

May 1 has come and gone, and with it went Petaluma Valley Hospital’s Family Birth Center.

As part of our continuing coverage on the end of dedicated maternal care in Sonoma County’s second largest city, KRCB News was on the ground with nurses and supporters at a rally outside Petaluma Valley Hospital on May 1, the planned last day of operations for the medical facility.

"Keep OB open!" Rang the chants from picketers outside Petaluma Valley Hospital on a cold and cloudy Monday, using the familiar term for the Birth Center - OB, short for obstetrics. "Keep OB open! Keep OB open!"

Friday, April 30, 2023 marked the end of an era in Petaluma - the last baby was delivered at Petaluma Valley Hospital’s acclaimed Family Birth Center, and Monday brought the start of a new reality as the unit was officially closed.

"Providence agreed to keep OB open for at least five years, and today we're standing out here on this corner at about a two year mark," RN Jackie Bedell said. "So that's a pretty easy math right there."

Bedell, a registered nurse at Petaluma Valley, says she fears for the fate of other units within the hospital and says legal action is a necessary step to insure Providence does not renege on other parts of the purchase contract.

"In that contract, it talks about a lot of other units in that hospital that they agree to keep open for 20, 25 years," Bedell said. "So what's to stop Providence from just slicing and dicing every unit up there?"

But consensus is not universal on Providence’s decision to close the unit.

"Honestly, it, I think it was more the, the loss of the three OB-GYN physicians in Santa Rosa all at the same time that that really precipitated the crisis," Doctor Anthony Kosinski said.

Kosinski is one of three OB-GYN’s who had been part of the Birth Center staff.

He has helped lead the consolidation of Petaluma Valley’s unit with Santa Rosa Memorial’s Birth Center, and felt the closure was needed, as larger healthcare workforce trends make it a challenge to continue providing obstetrics care to patients countywide.

"We're trying to recruit another OB-GYN to the area and we've had, you know, nobody really coming in, being interested in the position," Kosinski said.

But the closure leaves a gap in 24-hours-a-day obstetrics care between Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa and Marin General in Greenbrae - a so-called “maternity desert” 42 miles long.

For Petaluma Valley ER Nurse Jimmy Huynh, the gap is a major concern.

"None of us are OB nurses," Huynh said. "You know, we're ER nurses. That's what we trained for."

"We don't want OB to close, we don't wanna deliver babies in the ER, but we're busy and short staffed as it is, and we don't wanna lose our good doctors," Huynh said.

Petaluma City council member Janice Cader Thompson said the city has engaged with Petaluma’s Healthcare District Board - now called Healthy Petaluma - over the closure.

"The city is absolutely behind keeping OB services, and all services," Cader-Thompson said.

In a statement, Providence said the "Family Birthing Center does not have the necessary staffing and resources to safely support labor and delivery... appropriate options in Sonoma and Marin counties include Marin General Hospital, Providence Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital," and that " Petaluma Valley Hospital remains committed to doing what is best for the safety of patients."

Bedell said now, it’s a somber waiting game.

"Just hope that we don't lose a mom or a baby or both, because that first time we do, I can tell you there's gonna be a lot of people looking at Providence," Bedell said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Providence emailed to KRCB News after the story initially aired. 

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