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Nurses hold vigil for end of Saint Mary’s maternal child health services (updated)

By Mark Hernandez
Published: Last Updated on

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

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

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

Speaking on behalf of the nurses who have been affected by the decision were Jamie Whitfield and Heather Wehking. Whitfield is an RN and the chief representative for the nursing union, and Wehking is a delivery nurse. Both work at Saint Mary’s. 

“Saint Mary’s used to be the place to go to have babies and not just to deliver babies, but our NICU and pediatric department were invaluable to this community,” Whitfield said. “It’s not fair to our community and it’s beyond detrimental. This is the worst season to close a NICU and a pediatric ICU.” 

Nurses and medical staff hug each other at a vigil and protest against the planned end to maternal child health services at Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev. on Nov. 17, 2022.
Nurses and medical staff hug each other at a vigil and protest against the planned end to maternal child health services at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev. on Nov. 17, 2022. Image: Mark Hernandez / This Is Reno

The Nevada Hospital Association on Wednesday reported that pediatric intensive care units were at 100% capacity, in part because of increasing 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 there to support,” Whitfield added. 

The Saint Mary’s decision could make it difficult for many patients who are scheduled to deliver their babies in the coming months. The only other hospitals equipped to provide maternal and natal services are Renown and Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Center, which will have to absorb many of these patients. Similar to many health care facilities, Renown is also suffering from staff shortages.

Nurses and hospital staff were told about Saint Mary’s decision to discontinue maternal child health services on Nov. 11. 

Saint Mary’s spokesperson Mark Reece said the decision to end the services isn’t a reflection of the hospital’s organizational health, 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 affected employees who have been offered positions within the organization and opportunities to explore careers at other Prime Healthcare facilities,” he said.

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

“Some of these people are just devastated that this place that they started their family no longer exists … for some nurses that have been here 30, 40 years,” said Wehking. “It’s going to be very rough. We’ve now taken away 50% of the services in our town. We have one NICU left in town, so patients are not going to have any other option than to go to Renown.” 

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

Updated: This story has been updated to note that Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Center also offers labor and delivery services.

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