Philadelphia's Maternity Ward Crunch

couric maternity piece
CBS
Melissa Suszynski had the perfect pregnancy. But two weeks before her due date, she woke up covered in blood.

"I said, 'What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I'm bleeding all over the place!'" Suszynski told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

Suszynski's placenta had ruptured. She was rushed to the nearest hospital, Jeanes Medical Center, just seven miles away. Twelve minutes after she was admitted, she gave birth.

"They said if it was five minutes longer, I wouldn't have made it; my baby or I wouldn't have made it," Suszynski said.

Living close to Jeanes saved their lives. But next week, going there won't be an option for new mothers: The hospital is closing its maternity ward.

A decade ago there were 42 working maternity wards in the Philadelphia area. Jeanes will be the 14th to close — that's one-third of them shutting down.

The reason: money.

Obstetricians in the Philadelphia area pay among the steepest rates for malpractice insurance in the country — about $160,000 a year. Also, if the patient is on Medicaid, the hospitals pays half the bill. So every time a doctor delivers a baby, the hospital loses money.

"That truly is the problem: If you're losing on every birth, there are no economies of scale. There is no way to, through volume, to make this service more financially viable," said Meg McGlodrick, CEO of Abington Hospital.

The result: What amounts to a medical crisis, leaving the ones that are still open bursting at the seams.

Take Abington. Ten years ago, the hospital delivered about 3,000 babies. This year, officials expect that number to pass 5,000.

The hospital can stay in business because most of its patients don't need Medicaid and can afford better insurance. But Dr. Amy Mackey worries about the other hospitals and the new moms that may not be getting the care they deserve.

"I think that the service that they want is going to be jeopardized as a result of the lack of facilities and the lack of resources," Mackey said.

Resources that many hospitals can no longer afford and others can't live without.

"We need to have it there; if it wasn't there, it could have ended up horribly," Suszynski said.