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Hospital closing obstetrics program

Oak Hill Hospital is getting out of the baby business.

As of Oct. 31, the Spring Hill hospital's obstetrics unit is closing, officials said Wednesday.

"It was a very difficult decision to make," said hospital spokeswoman Nancy Kaminski. Oak Hill Hospital will continue its pediatrics program, but will refocus obstetrics space and resources on its future open heart surgery program, as well as expansions of emergency and pediatric services.

Nineteen employees will be affected, Kaminski said. Some could lose their jobs.

Oak Hill Hospital is owned by Nashville-based HCA Inc., the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, which also reported a 25 percent increase in second-quarter profits on Wednesday, beating Wall Street expectations.

Closing the obstetrics program will "help Spring Hill Regional Hospital enhance its current quality program," Oak Hill chief executive Jaime Wesolowski said in a press release.

However, Spring Hill Regional Hospital is concerned about accommodating women who won't be able to deliver at Oak Hill, especially on such short notice, said Spring Hill Regional chief executive Tom Barb.

"It's going to be a little tight picking up these additional deliveries," Barb said.

Spring Hill already handles about 70 percent of Hernando deliveries and is expanding its obstetrics division. But the expansion won't be complete until March. Spring Hill Regional may not have enough birthing rooms this winter and may have to use other hospital rooms, Barb said.

"We certainly can take care of mothers and babies, but we like to do it first-class," Barb said.

Oak Hill Hospital is moving toward emphasizing trauma-related services, including open heart surgery, emergency and oncology, Wesolowski said Tuesday. Heart specialists already are working on the open heart surgery program, which would be the county's first. The expansion project should begin in 2003.

Health Management Associates, which operates both Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals, had legally challenged Oak Hill's open heart surgery program. However, they withdrew their objection and asked Oak Hill leaders to withdraw their own objection to Brooksville Regional's plans to build and move into a new hospital on State Road 50.

The state Division of Administrative Hearings has listened to both sides and is expected to decide on the objection in the next few months.

Oak Hill has 53 maternity patients registered for deliveries through the end of October, but they could not say how many emergency deliveries they provide.

Oak Hill's goal is to retain all of its employees, Kaminski said. They will offer to transfer some to other HCA hospitals and absorb some in other areas within Oak Hill. Others will be offered serverance packages, she said.

Oak Hill's decision to cut the obstetrics program was not financial, Kaminski said.

However, Barb said he was not surprised by Oak Hill's decision, because obstetrics is less profitable than open heart surgery.

"OB is the least profitable service we provide, but it's a community service, and we're going to stay in it," Barb said.

HCA reported a net income of $350-million, or 66 cents per share, for the quarter ending June 30, which was up from $281-million or 52 cents per share in the second quarter of 2001. HCA operates 181 hospitals and 81 emergency surgery centers in 23 states, England and Switzerland.

Shares of HCA closed at $45.17 per share, up $4.75, or 11.8 percent, at the close of trading at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

_ Information from wire articles was used in this report.