When it come to delivering babies, the OB-Gyn practice of Dr. Alexandro Boschi, and midwives JoAnn Haas and Linda Anderson goes the distance - 30 miles to Allentown to either St. Luke's or Allentown Hospital.
Too bad that they can no longer walk across the street to Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital in Lehighton. Citing financial reasons, Blue Mountain Health System closed the birthing department at Gnaden Huetten, displacing a staff of more than 20 and making it virtually impossible for a medical professional to deliver a baby in Carbon County.
But, although there are no birthing facilities in Carbon County, that doesn't mean that obstetric services have abandoned the area.
"I met a young woman in the supermarket recently," said Anderson. "You used to be my midwife, but you moved."
"We didn't move," she continued. "When the hospital closed there were confusing stories and some of our patients thought we left the area. But we are still here."
In April 2009, Blue Mountain President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harris asked Dr. Boschi to meet with him, and at the meeting told him that he was thinking of closing the Gnaden Huetten maternity unit to stem financial losses. "The next thing it was announced that it would close," Boschi said.
"When they decided to close the unit, they waited until April to tell us, and gave us to the end of June," Haas said. "Usually, it takes three to six months to get privileges at another hospital. We were really in a pinch to see that we had privileges by the time this hospital closed. I hand-delivered applications to hospitals on my day off."
The transition is complete and one or more of the members of the practice travel to Allentown every day to see their patients-sometimes traveling 40-minutes each way for a five minute visit.
Their patients must now travel to Allentown to deliver. The obstetric practice does not offer home deliveries. For women who live in Palmerton, traveling to deliver in the Lehigh Valley is only about 30 minutes. Further north in Carbon County, say in Albrightsville, the trip to Allentown is more typically an hour-and that's in good weather.
In the winter, traveling from northern Carbon County to the Lehigh Valley can, not only be a long drive on icy roads, it can be a dangerous ride as the about-to-deliver woman is taking deep breaths and in need of attention from her husband. The obstetric practice recommends that expectant parents join an ambulance company-so someone else can concentrate on driving while the parents focus on the task at hand.
Travel time and distance is likewise a challenge for the practice. While the parents are trekking to Lehigh Valley for a hospital to deliver, a member of the practice is heading south, ready to make a delivery.
On one occasion, Anderson got the call and headed south on Rt. 248, only to find traffic delayed because of blasting for the new Pennsylvania Turnpike Bridge. She cell-phoned her Haas and they both headed for the Lehigh Valley on separate routes. Anderson made it first.
Although traveling to the Lehigh Valley for deliveries and for follow-up care of patients is time consuming, and they occasionally arrive too late to the hospital, they are happy with the service and the support that these hospitals provide. When they are late or the delivery becomes complicated, there is a great depth of staff and services to back them up. In the past, when they delivered in Gnaden Huetten and the baby needed special after-birth care, they had to transfer the mother and child to the Lehigh Valley. That is no longer necessary.