As they say, there is always more to the story.
And in the case of the hospital’s decision to suspend labor and delivery services beginning in August, there is more than what was initially reported.
After the most recent story broke on Friday, local family physician Dr. Ben Marcum contacted the Empire-Tribune to shed light on a few unreported facts. Notably, that a viable option to keep OB services going existed before officials with Texas Health Resources made the decision to suspend them.
Marcum said he approached Chris Leu, president of Texas Health Stephenville, months ago about using a company in Fort Worth to temporarily staff the hospital with OB-GYNs, which would have allowed labor and delivery services to continue. THR uses the same services for its hospital in Denton, Marcum said.
The hospital recently announced the service would be suspended because Dr. Janie McMillion and Dr. James Smith, both longtime physicians in obstetrics, are closing their local practices. Without an OB-GYN on staff, the hospital said it could not continue services until one is hired.
But Marcum claims that’s not exactly what happened.
“I asked THR to pay traveling OB docs to back me up for call after Dr. Smith and Dr. McMillion are done, but they told me no,” Marcum said. “It was a slap in the face. I was willing to work hard to keep those services going. If they had done that, they would not have had to let 15 nurses go and I would not have had to tell 50 women that they would have to go somewhere else to deliver their babies.”
Marcum has been practicing family medicine locally for seven years with an office at Stephenville Medical & Surgical Clinic. He routinely delivers five to 10 babies per month.
“Just last week I delivered five,” he said.
The hospital delivers an average of 375-400 babies per year.
“This is part of a much bigger problem,” Marcum said. “Many of us are frustrated with the THR system. Over the past seven years they have not shown a great amount of support for community physicians.
“It’s just one more episode that illustrates that they do not have the level of commitment to this community that they should.”
SURGICAL SERVICES SLASHED
Obstetrics isn’t the only service disappearing from Texas Health Stephenville.
General surgery is also closed following the retirement of Dr. Richard Frazier and the departure of Dr. Stephen Erck.
“So now if you have an appendix rupture, you are getting on a helicopter and going to Fort Worth. Patients can no longer get their gallbladder removed or a colonoscopy done locally,” Marcum said. “And it’s because THR will not support their surgeons properly. The physicians at SMSC don’t have the collegial relationship with the hospital that we should.”
Part of the problem, Marcum said, is that there is no local representation.
The hospital dissolved its local board of directors about a year ago, and Leu works in Stephenville, but resides in Fort Worth.
“The leadership of the hospital doesn’t even live in our community and isn’t in tune with our needs,” he said. “A board in Arlington makes all the decisions for Stephenville.”
Marcum said he doesn’t know who made the final decision to suspend labor and delivery services at Texas Health Stephenville.
“No one from THR called me and there was no discourse,” he said. “They just unilaterally made the decision.”
Marcum believes that suspending labor and delivery services will make it harder to recruit OB-GYNs to the area.
“I was ready and willing to continue to deliver babies here if they had chosen to help me, but they told me no because THR would not support me nor the women of this community,” Marcum said. “I’m not sure THR is totally committed to supporting Stephenville. If they were, there is a way they could have continued to provide the service had they really wanted to.”
Meanwhile, Marcum is working with Lesslie Bull, a nurse practitioner who is also a midwife, at SMSC to continue offering prenatal care for women up to 36 weeks. Then they will help make arrangements to have the baby delivered at a different hospital.
“She is very knowledgeable and is a phenomenal nurse practitioner and mid-wife,” Marcum said of Bull.
He said patients that he has had to send elsewhere to deliver have responded to the news “unfavorably.”
“My patients want to deliver in Stephenville,” he said.
Marcum says he remains committed to working with the hospital and hopes relations will improve and services will resume sooner rather than later.
“I’m not going anywhere. I plan to retire in Stephenville and I am in this for the long haul,” he said.
The E-T reached out to Leu Monday morning for an interview and response to Marcum’s concerns. When the call had not been returned by late afternoon, a text message was sent.
Shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, Leu sent the following statement via email:
“We are committed to providing safe and reliable obstetrical care to the women of Stephenville. Because of this we are actively recruiting three full-time OB-GYNs. We believe that this long-term solution will meet the community’s needs and allow us to reach our goal of stabilizing obstetrical care.
“None of the temporary solutions we explored met our quality and safety standards.
“We stand ready to assist patients in finding appropriate care at another Texas Health hospital.
“With respect to general surgery, we have been partnering with Stephenville Medical and Surgical Clinic to recruit and place a full-time general surgeon in the community. At this time, we have appropriate processes in place to transport emergency patients who are in need of general surgical care to the nearest appropriate facility for care.”