By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY December 26, 2003 In an ironic twist of fate, some Sullivan County residents have spearheaded a campaign to save neighboring Wayne Countys birthing center.
Eric Kubenik of the family-run Kohler Lumber in Jeffersonville read a story in the Sullivan County Democrat last week about the impending closure of Dr. Hoon Yoo and Dr. Pedro Mencias obstetrical office in Honesdale, Pa.
With skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs and an increase in the payments required by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania into the MCARE (Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error) fund, Wayne Countys last two OB/GYNs decided to get out of the business come January 1, 2004.
That meant the birthing ward at Wayne Memorial Hospital, New Beginnings, faced closure as well, with no doctors available to deliver babies.
Kubenik was shocked. His wife Christina delivered both 7-year-old Cody and 3-year-old Jordan in Honesdale, Pa. with Dr. Yoos help.
I kind of feel I owe him a debt of gratitude, he added.
Then he talked with friend Kimberly Kratz of Callicoon Center, who was aghast at the news that Dr. Yoo was closing his doors.
She fought tooth and nail to keep her insurance in Pennsylvania so she could visit the Honesdale office if she and husband Willis decided to have a baby sister or brother for young Luke.
Luke was delivered in March by Yoo, and his help was invaluable during a high-risk pregnancy, Kratz said.
If money was the only object, the two decided, then something could be done.
Kubeniks family is putting up $500 in the name of Kohler Lumber.
Now theyre challenging other businesses and individuals to do the same.
They have to have thousands of patients over there, Kubenik noted. If each person gives $20, that would be a good chunk of change.
According to Debbie Barnes, administrator of Womens Health Care of Northeastern Pennsylvania (the doctors office), the state legislature cut back $140,000 of the original figure quoted for the doctors to pay into MCARE.
But that still leaves a $90,000 malpractice bill hanging over Yoo and Mencias heads that is due Jan. 1. Another $90,000 must be paid out by July 1, or the doctors will again face closing.
Barnes said the doctors and the entire office staff have been touched by Kubeniks offer.
When Eric called yesterday and spoke with me, I was just so blown away, she said Tuesday afternoon.
If his campaign works, she said, it would be a blessing not only to the office but to the many women who depend on Drs. Yoo and Mencia not just for prenatal care but regular gynecological visits and surgeries.
Barnes suggested donations be made out to Womens Healthcare of NEPA and sent to attn: Debbie Barnes, 110 Parks St, Honesdale, Pa., 18431.
I want to get involved and let them see what theyll be losing, Kubenik said.
I think its a good gesture, Kratz added. It will bring awareness what people fail to realize is what kind of effect this is going to have on the Honesdale economy.
The staff will be out of work and unable to afford to shop on Main Street, and patients will no longer be going into the area for appointments and doing their shopping or picking up groceries while theyre out.
Kratz also hopes the news will boost the spirits of Yoo and Mencia.
I hope it shows Dr. Yoo and Dr. Mencia that people are freaking out, that they should beg, borrow or steal to stay open, she said.
So far, with the reprieve of the $140,000 MCARE bill announced when the legislature set a budget Monday, New Beginnings has pledged to stay open.
Drs. Yoo and Mencia have also pledged to try to find the funds necessary to stay open theyve even started scheduling patients for the new year.
Dr. Paula Bennett, a family physician in the area, has also agreed to return to delivering babies.
But this is going to be an ongoing problem, Barnes said, until the state legislature makes some hard decisions about malpractice suits in the state.