ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) — Maternity deserts are becoming more common nationwide, and now a local county will soon have no access to labor and delivery care.

University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center will close labor and delivery services on August 8th. However, pre and postnatal care will remain available on-site to patients.

“It’s just the component of that one moment in the pregnancy, delivery that our moms will have to facilitate that at another institution,” said Sylvia Radziszewski, COO at UH Samaritan Medical Center.

The hospital cites staffing shortages combined with a decline in births as the cause of the closure.

“It’s a difficult decision we had to come to really based on circumstances of a perfect storm,” said Radziszewski. “Births are down annually for us, historically we’ve run around the low 300s, we’re targeted to end the year at around 180 births.”

According to Radziszewski, the closure will directly impact about 90 patients and nearly 20 nurses.

The hospital is working with the nearest labor and delivery medical center OhioHealth Mansfield to handle the labor and delivery care of patients.

A 2022 March of Dimes Maternity Care Deserts report stated Ohio had the most women impacted by overall reductions in access to care. The report said approximately 2.2 million women of childbearing age and almost 150,000 babies are affected by maternity deserts, a two percent increase in counties since 2020.

“It’s really a struggle across the nation from a rural setting standpoint to have those specialized providers on site for us to deliver and care for the moms and babies,” said Radziszewski. “This was a really tough decision that happened really quickly based on provider notification to staff, our nursery and having safe deliveries for our moms.”

The City of Ashland Fire Division Chief Rick Anderson said he was surprised to hear of the discontinuation of services. Anderson said the division remains prepared to handle a possible influx of labor and delivery emergency calls but does not predict a surge.

“Kind of shocking but then when you hear the numbers from UH, I understand it,” said Anderson. “Most of our stuff, 99 percent of it is still going to be status quo.”

The Ashland County Health Department released the following statement:

“We understand this was a difficult decision for University Hospitals to make, but feel they did their due diligence to identify the best solution to continue offering obstetric (OB) care in our community,” said Jill Hartson, the Preparedness and Prevention Director/Public Information Officer at Ashland County Health Department. “One of our concerns was access to care because that has been identified in our last two Community Health Assessments as an ongoing issue in Ashland County.  However, University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center will be able to provide local OB care to Ashland County residents both before and after the baby’s birth. Ashland County residents will only need to leave town to deliver their baby at nearby OhioHealth Mansfield. We’ve been assured by University Hospitals that they are working with the local midwives and Amish community to address their concerns and make sure their needs are met.”

Since 2022, UH closed and transitioned labor and delivery care at Lake West as well as UH Portage Medical Center.