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Closure of Ascension St. Vincent Dunn Hospital could create maternity care desert in Lawrence County

When Dunn closes, people will have to drive 30 minutes to Bloomington or Paoli or 45 minutes east to Seymour to deliver in a hospital with childbirth services.

BEDFORD, Ind. — Ascension has announced it's closing one of its Indiana hospitals in Lawrence County.

Ascension St. Vincent Dunn Hospital in Bedford will shut down in mid-December.

Neighbors and doctors say the consequence of this closure is devastating, especially for pregnant people and maternity care.

Dr. Deborah Craton delivered hundreds of babies in Bedford before retiring this summer from family practice and obstetrics.

Her career in Lawrence County, she says, was a calling, just like her mom and aunt who practiced before her.

"There's nothing better than bringing a baby into this world," Catron said. "There's absolutely nothing better than that."

But soon, she says, this county will lose maternity care completely.

Ascension St. Vincent Dunn is closing the hospital and all Lawrence County Ascension Medical Group practices on Dec. 16.

Credit: WTHR

In a statement, an Ascension Indiana spokesperson told 13News:

"After a thorough assessment of the hospital’s current operating environment and the healthcare landscape in Bedford, Ascension St. Vincent Dunn and all Lawrence County Ascension Medical Group (AMG) practices will be closing December 16, 2022. 

On Friday, Sept. 16, we shared this news with hospital leadership, providers and associates as well as external partners. Plans are in place to ensure continuity of care for patients. Those plans include discussions with local and regional providers to transition healthcare services.

Ascension St. Vincent Dunn is one of two Critical Access Hospitals in Lawrence County, just miles apart from one another. In fact, Lawrence County is one of the only counties in the country to have two critical access hospitals.   After exploring the options available, including conducting an unsuccessful search for a buyer for the hospital, it was clear that other providers with a larger presence in the region are better positioned to efficiently serve the residents of Bedford and neighboring communities. 

We are committed to supporting our Ascension St. Vincent Dunn community through this transition."

IU Health Bedford, only a couple of miles away, is a critical access hospital, but it doesn't have a maternity ward. So, Craton fears of a maternity desert in Lawrence County, putting moms and babies at risk.

"There will be nobody here to do prenatal care. There will be nobody here to do any deliveries. There won't be any units," she said. "Who's going to do that if we have no obstetrics in Bedford? You're driving 30 miles for an emergency surgery? You're gonna lose somebody and possibly both mom and baby."

Credit: WTHR

Ashley Jones is pregnant, due in October with her second child — a little boy.

Jones said she's glad she'll deliver before the hospital closure.

"I'm safe, but anybody after me, you know, it's rough stuff," Jones said. "It's scary because you don't know when you're going to go into labor, how long it's going to take."

Once Dunn closes, people will have to drive 30 minutes north to Bloomington, 30 minutes south to Paoli or 45 minutes east to Seymour to deliver in a hospital with childbirth services.

Craton is worried for future pregnant patients, soon lacking care close to home.

"I understand financials, but what about the right thing to do?" Craton said. "Who is more at risk than a pregnant woman and her unborn child? Who is more vulnerable than that? And yet we're willing to put the dollars before the care, and that really bothers me."

According to Craton, Ascension creating just a birthing center at St. Vincent Dunn or IU Health Bedford restarting its maternity ward would solve the problem.

13News reached out to IU Health, asking if that was a possibility. A spokesperson sent the following statement:

"We are in the process of validating the facts surrounding Ascension St. Vincent Dunn and their future in the Lawrence County community.

We are also continuing to discover how Ascension St. Vincent’s and Dunn Hospital are planning for transitions of care for their patients.

IU Health Bedford will continue to ensure excellent support and care to the Lawrence County Community as we always have."

Craton said there are other consequences of the closure, as well.

According to Craton, about 7,000 people will be without a medical home, without their provider, and it's not likely all of them will be able to find and get a doctor at IU Health Bedford.

Plus, Lawrence County will lose one of its two ambulance services, which worries firefighters.

They tell 13News that'll leave only two ambulances, currently with IU Health Lifeline, to cover the entire county.

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