LIMA — The Ohio House of Representatives’ Health and Aging Committee listened to testimony from Lima physicians and local mothers about their issues with current neonatal care policies during a hearing at St. Rita’s Medical Center on Tuesday.
Since policy changes made in January 2012, doctors at St. Rita’s and Lima Memorial Health System had to transfer dozens of infants from their Level II neonatal units to Level III units, babies that didn’t used to have to make the trip.
The transfers are the result of the Ohio Department of Health changing some guidelines to rules. The Ohio Department of Health said the rules are in place to ensure the safety of infants and their mothers. Local physicians and care providers say the new rules take away their decision-making and judgment, impose undue burdens on infants and families and add unnecessary costs to the health care system.
The judgments are based on factors like birth weight, if they weigh less than 1,500 grams, (approximately 3.31 pounds) and if they stay on a ventilator for more than 24 hours.
The committee heard the testimony based on legislation introduced by Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, who altered the rules.
Dr. Bill Scherger, an obstetrician in Lima, told state representatives these transfer trips to hospitals in Dayton, Toledo and Columbus can cost families thousands of dollars. He argued families could receive equal quality care in Lima without the hassle and stress of moving away from home.
“As physicians, we want nothing more than for our patients to receive the best care and with them to have the least amount of risk. But the current (Ohio Department of Health) rules, well meaning, actually lead to just the opposite,” Dr. Scherger said.
Some representatives, including committee chairman Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, and Rep. Nickie Antonio, referenced their trip to Lima from Columbus on Tuesday morning, factoring in the cold snowy weather, and thinking about the lengthy trip mothers and infants might have to take if an infant or mother had to be transferred to a Level III hospital.
Scherger said the mandates don’t make much sense for hospitals such as St. Rita’s and Lima Memorial, and the transfer itself to a Level III hospital imposes additional risks.
“You might be at an increased risk for a different outcome if you stay at a Level II hospital, so we’re going to mandate that all of you be transferred to another hospital, irregardless of how good that Level II hospital is that you’re currently being cared for in,” Dr. Scherger said. “There are many Level II hospitals in the state of Ohio that do an outstanding job at caring for at-risk infants, and they’ve done so for at least 20 years. You’re sitting in one of them.”
Dr. Jack Liggett, a Lima pediatrician, also provided testimony for the Health and Aging Committee. He said the policies are meant to be guidelines, not rules, and would be better if experienced physicians would be able to make the judgement call like they had before.
“We clearly have always had the resources to handle a lot of cases locally,” he said, “But because of these regulations, we are now forced to transfer them far away from family and friends. Mandatory transfer of either the pregnant mother or infant should be eliminated.”
Two mothers, Jessica Trinko, of Ottawa, and Kelly Brokemp, of Ottoville, told their stories of how St. Rita’s was a great place for their stressful births before policy changes were made.
“Transferring a child to another facility causes more stress not only for the baby but on the family also,” Brokemp said. “Having a baby is hard enough. Please don’t make it harder.”
The stories particularly made a difference for Rep. Ron Maag.
“After hearing this testimony, I’m not sure how I voted on this bill,” he said. “But I do think this is a little bit of an overstep. Physicians are probably one of the most educated groups in the United States… I’m not sure if legislators making that decision for you is the best way to do it.”
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