A public hearing was  held on Amita Health Saint Francis Hospital’s request to discontinue its 18-bed obstetrics category of service on Oct. 1, at the Morton Civic Center.

The application states that while routine deliveries will no longer occur at the hospital following the discontinuation, outpatient OB/gyn care, including prenatal care, will continue to be provided, as will subspecialty gynecological programs, including oncology, urogynecology and gynecologic surgery.

Kenneth Jones, President of St. Francis, said, “Overall reliance on St. Francis for obstetrics has diminished greatly. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of babies born at the hospital has dropped by almost one-third.” Last year, he said, St. Francis delivered 500 babies, compared to 3,500 at Evanston Hospital, 1,200 at Amita Health Saint Joseph Hospital Chicago, and 1,100 at Amita Health Resurrection Medical Center Chicago. The application adds that five other hospitals provide obstetrical services within ten miles.

Michael McGinty, a long-time Evanston resident, said he joined with other residents of Evanston to request the public hearing. “We view the closing of this important health care unit as a blow to the diverse population of South Evanston and North Rogers Park in Chicago.” He said many women in the area are already underserved, including women of all races and particularly immigrant women. 

Mr. McGinty said St. Francis has not presented a detailed plan showing that it could deal with certain life-threatening cases, if it discontinued obstetrics services. He said if a pregnant woman came to St. Francis while hemorrhaging, or suffering from excessively high blood pressure, or with a footling breach delivery, or a ruptured placenta,  she may require emergency OB treatment so significant that she or her baby might not survive ambulance transportation to another hospital even if it is only 15-20 minutes away.

Danielle Norman, a Registered Nurse and  Director of Emergency Services at St. Francis, said, “After the hospital stops providing routine delivery services, any expectant patient coming to the emergency department will be safely and appropriately cared for. All of our ED [Emergency Department] nurses are trained in obstetrics triage techniques and any woman in labor will be examined by the ED physician. … It is anticipated that most women in labor will be stabilized and transported to another nearby hospital for final stages of labor, for delivery and post-partem care.”

Ms. Norman added that if a woman needed delivery in the ED at St. Francis, “we will be ready to meet the call.”

Maggie Chlebowicz, an obstetrician at Access Evanston Community Health Center on Howard Street, said 90% of the clinic’s patients are immigrants. She said most of them are underprivileged, learning English, have no insurance, no money to buy anything, not even a bus ticket, and have health issues. She said these patients would be impacted if St. Francis discontinued its obstetrics services. “I don’t agree with any of this,” she said.

About 15 people spoke at the hearing. The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board is scheduled to make its decision on the application on Oct. 22.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...