OAKDALE — Oak Valley Hospital's maternity ward will close, a reluctant governing board decided Wednesday night.
The board voted 6-1 to shut the unit, which delivers about 250 babies a year and employs 20 people. The closure tentatively is set for July 2.
Annual losses of about $750,000 made the move necessary, board Chairman Dan Cummins said. The vote came after two forums earlier this month at which employees and other supporters pleaded to keep the unit open.
"It's very emotional for us also, but nobody on this board has the luxury of voting on their emotions," Cummins said.
Board member Bob Wikoff dissented. He said the district has not done enough to market itself to major Oakdale employers whose health plans send people to other hospitals.
The six-bed unit has brought babies into the world since the 1973 opening of Oak Valley, which serves Oakdale, Waterford, Knights Ferry, Riverbank, Escalon and nearby areas.
Obstetrics was supposed to eventually move into the unfinished upper floor of the new main hospital, which opened last year.
Oakdale resident Bianca Signorelli, speaking after the vote, said the closure is unfair to district residents whose taxes help pay for the new building.
"We voted the bonds in for a hospital, and when we did that, we thought we had a whole hospital, including OB," she said.
John McCormick, chief executive officer at the hospital, said about 75 percent of the district's pregnant women go elsewhere for delivery.
He also said many of the mothers are under Medi-Cal, which does not pay enough to cover the costs. And he said Oak Valley, with its small size and standalone operation, lacks some of the efficiencies of chain hospitals.
McCormick said earlier this month that the closure would be delayed until July so affected employees could look for other jobs.
Oak Valley will continue to provide prenatal care, but families will have to go to Modesto, Turlock, Manteca or elsewhere for births.
Board member Edward Chock, a longtime physician in Oakdale, said the unit has provided quality service. Despite that, he said, "a financial loss of this magnitude is just not sustainable without compromising our ability to provide (other) services to the community."
Cummins said the maternity unit might return at some point if the hospital can increase its share of the health care market.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.