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Treasure Coast ends obstetrics program for poor

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of September 19, 2013)

Treasure Coast Community Health is terminating its obstetrics program for the area’s poor and underinsured, which will leave the area’s remaining healthcare facilities hard-pressed to fill the gap and probably needing additional tax dollars. The move could also increase malpractice suits over problematic deliveries.

After the Oct. 31 closure of Treasure Coast’s obstetrics program, it is feared that low-income women will either swamp the only remaining facility in the county offering them services, the Partners in Women’s Health clinic across from the hospital in Vero Beach, or go without proper prenatal care, which could result in difficult deliveries at the area’s only public hospital.

“It hurts me a lot to see this program go down the drain,” said Dr. Humberto Posada, who for decades helped deliver more than 6,000 children before he joined Treasure Coast in 2008 as a gynecologist.

Posada helped recruit Dr. Mariam Sampson to Indian River County and the Treasure Coast program, thus allowing him to expand the women’s program with obstetrics, but Dr. Posada left the organization a few months ago and now Sampson is also leaving.

“The poor people are not being served,” said Posada. “The program was created to serve the underserved in Fellsmere.”

The obstetrics program will close just after its second birthday. It’s the second time in a year that Treasure Coast – founded to offer health care to the poor – cut a major program. The organization eliminated mental health service for adults last year for lack of funds. That program, however, was resurrected on a smaller level when an anonymous island resident donated $50,000 to keep it afloat while other grants were sought.

“Oh, no,” said Arianna Gamez, a Fellsmere resident, when she heard the news about the obstetrics program. She said she knows of 10 pregnant area women who use the prenatal services at Treasure Coast’s clinic on County Road 512, about a mile and a half from downtown Fellsmere.

Treasure Coast served both people with and without insurance, but has now told more than two dozen pregnant clients not expected to give birth before Oct. 31 that they need to find another doctor to guide their pregnancies through the remainder of their terms.

For those on Medicaid or without insurance, their sole option is to go to taxpayer-funded Partners in Women’s Health. The two private obstetricians in Vero Beach only accept patients with private insurance.

“I would say Partners is going to get hit with additional people,” said Ann Marie Suriano, executive director of the Indian River County Hospital District which oversees how tax dollars for indigent care are doled out. The taxing district is prepared to give Partners $2.1 million for poor pregnant women, the same amount as last year, so Partners will have to figure out how to make do with the same funds while serving more customers.

Suriano said the taxing district’s governing board may have to ask county residents to pay more in taxes should an influx of indigent people start using Partners.

“It’s just heart-breaking for me,” said Sampson, a board-certified obstetrician who joined Treasure Coast in 2011 but said she decided to leave Nov. 1 because she felt she was being forced out.

Sampson said Treasure Coast’s chief executive, Vicki Soule, who is not a doctor, had hired another ob/gyn, Dr. Jennifer Moore, to replace her even though Moore had not delivered a baby in years. Moore could perform gynecological surgery at the hospital, but could not deliver babies as too much time had lapsed since she last delivered a child – about eight years.

“She wouldn’t listen,” said Sampson of Soule’s apparent insistence that Moore could take over the program. In a written response, Soule said several conditions have changed since it began its push into obstetrics and gynecology.