By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
Plains Regional Medical Center has a unique distinction among the hospitals that dot eastern New Mexico and neighboring West Texas towns — they are the sole facility with an active obstetrics department.
Dr. Bruce Cross, who has been practicing obstetrics in Clovis for 22 years, said that obstetrics department went to the wayside as institutions lost their older physicians that were general or family physicians who were trained to deliver would leave or retire.
“Obstetrics became so technical. Hospitals didn’t have the delivery numbers to sustain the programs,” Cross said.
PRMC Administrator Hoyt Skabelund said the lack of OB departments is not unusual for the state.
“We are one of the least populated states,” he said. “It’s not unusual for residents of New Mexico to have to travel to get the services they need.”
Cross said rural areas with a lone obstetrics department is a national trend.
“It’s hard to get people to come to rural areas to come in and practice,” he said. “The big delivery numbers allow the hospital (PRMC) to have the state-of-the-art technology they have.”
Cross said more than 50 percent of patients from De Baca, Quay and Bailey counties would choose to travel to Clovis to have their babies delivered even when OB services were available locally.
“Because of the size of the hospital and the state-of-the-art technology, even when patients had a choice, they would come to Clovis anyway,” Cross said.
Skabelund said having the only active labor and delivery program in the area keeps the staff proficient in their skills.
“They delivery babies every day,” he said. “And that keeps them up to date in what they are doing.”
PRMC doesn’t have doctors who specialize in obstetrics on staff. Obstetricians from Women’s Medical Center and La Casa Family Health Center work on-call at the hospital to deliver babies.
Skabelund said the number of babies born at PRMC ebbs and flows based on various factors.
“We will grow with Cannon Air Force Base,” he said.
Skabelund said while some may have to travel to get to the hospital, when they get there, all the services they require are at hand. Cross said the quality of care is higher because of what PRMC has to offer.
“Sometimes Mother Nature throws you a curve, but when a new baby comes into the world, it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. We have the resource and ability to do it well,” he said.
Cross said when Trigg Memorial in Tucumcari and Roosevelt General Hospital’s OB programs closed, he and other doctors in the region tried to do mobile clinics to provide checkups for mothers.
“It didn’t really work,” he said. “We wouldn’t have the proper equipment with us to really help them so we’d end up sending them PRMC to get ultrasounds and tests done. We realized we could serve the community better by us staying here and letting them come to us. By centralizing the care, we are able to provide better care and a higher quality of care.”
Ellen Augustine, interim director of women’s and pediatric services at PRMC, said the hospital is able to offer a full range of services because it is part of the larger Presbyterian Hospitals system.
As a traveling manager, Augustine said she has worked at hospitals all over the country.
“The staff here at PRMC is excellent,” she said. “I’m especially glad that we have nurse midwives. Really, we have the ability to allow a woman to labor and deliver the way they want to.”