Nurses watch over the end of Maternal and Child Health services at Saint Mary

Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, a mainstay of Reno since 1908, will soon be ending its maternal and child health services. On Thursday, November 17, union nurses and community members held a vigil on Sixth Street outside the hospital to show their displeasure with the recent decision.

Maternal and child health covers a variety of services that are crucial for pregnant women and infants, including obstetrics, pediatrics, labor and delivery, and neonatal intensive care (NICU).

The crowd of nurses, numbering around 40, were there to both demand that Saint Mary’s respect its patients and nurses and to mourn the loss of Darella Lydell. Lydell was a registered labor and delivery nurse for 21 years and recently passed away shortly after the announcement.

Jamie Whitfield and Heather Wehking spoke on behalf of nurses who were affected by the decision. Whitfield is a registered nurse and chief representative of the nurses’ union, and Wehking is a nurse midwife. Both work at Saint Mary’s.

“It used to be that Saint Mary’s was the place to go to have babies and not just give birth, but our neonatal and pediatric intensive care unit was invaluable to that community,” Whitfield said. “It’s not fair to our community and it’s beyond damaging. This is the worst season to close a NICU and a pediatric ICU.

Nurses and medical staff embrace during a vigil protesting the planned end of maternal and child health services at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada on November 17, 2022. Image: Mark Hernandez/This Is Reno

The Nevada Hospital Association reported Wednesday that pediatric intensive care units were at 100% capacity, in part due to rising cases of influenza and RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus. Pediatric units in local hospitals are at 150% capacity.

“The other facilities in town are just going to be overrun without Saint Mary’s being there to support them,” Whitfield added.

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Saint Mary’s decision could make it more difficult for many patients due to give birth in the coming months. The only other hospital equipped to provide maternal and natal services is Renown, which will have to absorb many of these patients. Similar to many healthcare facilities, Renown also suffers from a staff shortage.

Nurses and hospital staff have been notified of Saint Mary’s decision to halt maternal and child health services on November 11.

Saint Mary’s spokesman Mark Reece said the decision to end services did not reflect the organizational health of the hospital and touted growth in other areas, including the emergency department. He also said the company is working to keep affected employees on staff.

“The hospital hopes to retain all of its relevant employees who have been offered positions within the organization and opportunities to explore careers at other Prime Healthcare locations,” he said.

Neonatal and NICU nurses are highly specialized and can spend years training and developing the skills necessary to work in this setting.

“Some of these people are just devastated that this place where they started their families no longer exists…for some nurses who have been here for 30, 40 years,” Wehking said. “It’s going to be very hard. We have now cut 50% of our city’s services. We have one NICU left in town, so patients will have no choice but to go to Renown.

Reece added that Saint Mary’s is also mourning the passing of Lydell, whom he called “an incredible and dedicated member of the Saint Mary’s family” and a member of staff “who compassionately cared for patients and families for many years”.

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