By Jeanne Sager
HONESDALE, PA December 19, 2003 New Beginnings may suffer a bitter end next week.
The state-of-the-art maternity ward at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, Pa., was dealt a bitter blow last week when Wayne Countys only obstetrical and gynecological practice announced they would be shutting their doors.
The year began with 10 OB/GYNs delivering healthy baby boys and girls in New Beginnings.
But by New Years Day, Dr. Pedro Mencia and Dr. Hoon Yoo, the last two practitioners on the block, may be out of the baby birthing business.
The practice is unable to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of malpractice insurance and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanias high surcharges for OB/GYNs to practice.
According to Mencia, the state legislature has failed the gynecological industry in Pennsylvania.
The straw that broke the camels back was [Governor Edward] Rendells decision at the 12th hour to go ahead and build the catastrophe fund.
The so-called cat fund is a kitty that OB/GYNs pay into for malpractice insurance in addition to the high premiums they already must pay their carriers.
The legislature had promised a break in the cat fund this year for those who are at high risk for malpractice, those whose premiums are already sky high.
But that promise didnt come through last week. Instead, the governor sent Yoo and Mencia and OB/GYNs across the state a bill for MCARE (the cat funds official name, which stands for Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error), with a demand that not only the costs for 2003 but most of 2004 be paid by Dec. 31.
Mencia and Yoo cant make the payment.
Weve cut back our salaries as far as we can, and were working on an operating budget thats barely cutting it, Mencia explained. You have to keep getting deeper and deeper and borrowing more money just to practice.
Unlike other businessesmen, medical practitioners are tied to their fees, Mencia said. Even if they raise them, the HMOs and Medicare will only pay what they deem fair and proper theres no more money coming in.
To combat the rising costs, Mencia and Yoo put their offices up for sale this year. But with the real estate market the way it is, they havent gotten a single offer that would help.
So they made the hardest decision of all.
Its not that we want to leave, we dont want to leave, Mencia said.
But unless the Legislature reverses its decisions at the last hour, the last two people delivering babies at Wayne Memorial will be gone by New Years Day.
Its a terrible state of affairs for the doctors who dont want to go, the nurses and other staff at New Beginnings who dont know if theyll have jobs after the holidays, and mothers who count on Mencia and Yoo to be there in their time of need.
That includes hundreds of parents from Sullivan County who cross the border into Pennsylvania to seek care.
Kimberly Kratz of Callicoon Center is distraught over the news.
She credits Yoo with helping her to bring her bouncing baby boy into this world.
She and husband Willis welcomed Luke in March of this year.
Hers was a high-risk pregnancy, and Yoo was there every step of the way.
As soon as I met Dr. Yoo, I knew instantly I could trust him, she said. Id interviewed a bunch of doctors, and I had a crazy medical history.
But I knew he was smart enough, he was caring enough and competent enough to be the doctor for me, Kratz continued. I chose Honesdale because of its reputation and the reputation of the practice.
Considering having another baby, the Kratzes fought tooth and nail to keep the insurance that would allow them to see Yoo and Mencia and deliver at Wayne Memorial.
Now Kimberly doesnt know what to do. If Yoo is gone, her choices are limited. She can stay in the county and go to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris, head to Orange County and deliver at Horton Medical Center or go even farther into Pennsylvania a long trip for a mother in labor.
She doesnt want to change gynecologists.
I absolutely adore Dr. Yoo, Kratz said. We had a really nice relationship.
I dont have any confidence in Catskill Regional Medical Center, she added. They have a terrible reputation.
It will be detrimental to the community for [Drs. Yoo and Mencia] to leave, she said. It would be such a travesty to lose them we cant lose them.
Especially in a rural area, we cant lose guys like this.
New Beginnings nurse Mary Ellen Rodgers concurs.
Shes also a resident of Sullivan County. Her children graduated from the Sullivan West school district.
Of the 500 deliveries she sees a year at Wayne Memorial, there are dozens of people she knows who come over the border.
The same goes for the 700 to 800 gynecological surgery patients who come into New Beginnings each year.
She knows there will be a huge impact on the place where she lives as well as the place where she works.
A small town hospital always has a hard time, she said. Thats always the way in business the bigger corporations absorb the costs and move on, and the smaller ones suffer.
But what impact is this going to have on patient care? she pondered. This serves an already underserved rural population.
We need more doctors, not less.
Wayne Memorial Hospital hasnt made any decisions yet. Officials are slowly reacting to the news.
At this juncture, no ones saying were going to close the birthing suite, said hospital spokesperson Lisa Champeau. But if we have no doctors to deliver babies, we might have to.
For now, Rodgers, Wayne Memorial and Drs. Yoo and Mencia are just waiting with bated breath.
Theyre actively writing letters to Pennsylvanias legislators, and a group of Wayne Memorial patients is planning a bus trip to Harrisburg to lobby for a reduction in MCARE.
I dont know whats going to happen, Mencia said. I just know I dont want to go.