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Hospital delivers options

Imagine having to work almost non-stop for two of every three weeks.

That is a possible scenario for Whidbey Island’s remaining obstetrician/gynecologist as the hospital’s Board of Commissioners considered ways to solve the shortage of baby doctors on the island.

Hospital officials presented two options; hire a new Ob/Gyn or bring in two part-time Nurse Midwifes.

“There’s many women that would be happy with midwife services,” said Kate Sutherland, a labor and delivery nurse with the hospital. “Women like the individualized care and nurse midwifes have a bit more time to spend with them.”

The deciding factor will center around money. Offering obstetrics and gynecological services is a losing venture for the hospital. Each year, the hospital purges about $700,000 through the program.

The first option offered would be to bring in a second doctor. The hospital would have to spend between $212,000 and $297,000 within the first two years just to have a chance of recruiting a doctor to the island.

That cost includes $40,000 in assistance to help defer the cost of malpractice insurance, which is the reason given for the shortage of doctors available. Most leave to practice in larger groups, which offer lower insurance premiums.

The new doctor would perform most major surgeries, deliver babies and conduct a private practice.

The other option presented involved hiring two part-time nurse midwifes. This is the cheaper option for the hospital, involving only $125,000 in up-front costs. But there are some downsides.

Since nurse midwifes are not doctors, there are some services they can not provide, such as major gynecological surgeries. Lucie Riederer, currently Whidbey’s only Ob/Gyn, will no longer be performing major surgeries, but will still be available for Caesarian sections and tubal ligations.

The hospital would hire John Eggers, who practiced medicine on the island from 1999 to 2002, to perform surgeries one out of every three weeks. That would cost the hospital about $130,000 a year, depending on how many surgeries he performs.

“We feel that, being on an island, we need to provide obstetrical services,” Hospital CEO Scott Rhine said. “Even knowing the financial situation we’re in.”

In some communities, family practitioners are able to provide obstetrical care, but the high price of malpractice insurance is forcing some to give up that practice, Rhine said.

Islanders will get a chance to voice their opinions at two informational sessions the hospital has scheduled. On Aug. 23 at 7 p.m., officials will be at the Bayview Cash Store, and the next night, they will be at the Whidbey General North facility in Oak Harbor.

Over the last few years, the hospital estimates about 800 births each year for Whidbey Island residents. About half of those occur at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor. Only 200 births occur at Whidbey General.

The hospital’s commissioners voiced their support for expanding the island’s offerings of midwife services. Currently, only one midwife practices on Whidbey.

“I think we have been on a seesaw of OB/GYN’s,” Hospital Commissioner Barb Saugen said. “This is a plan that for right now, it gives us immediate coverage.”

Paul Zaveruha was a bit more hesitant about rushing into a decision. He said that the option of having a part-time surgeon would not lead to a successful practice.

“It takes a full-time effort to do a full-time service to the community,” Zaveruha said.

After the public forums at the end of the month, the commissioners will have a special meeting to decide which direction to pursue.

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