PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nearly two weeks after Legacy Health closed its Mount Hood Family Birth Center, the Oregon Health Authority has denied the health care facility’s request to close.

Legacy closed the center on March 17, saying the hospital would be on “divert status” – sending maternity patients to Randall Children’s Hospital for care nearly 17 miles away.

But the closure came before OHA had approved or denied Legacy’s waiver application that was originally submitted on March 6.

Legacy says they were forced to close the center because it requires 24/7 staffing, has the lowest birth volume and requires the highest-care costs across their system.

State health officials announced they denied Legacy’s waiver application on Wednesday, March 29, stating that closing the birth center to “divert” patients does not sufficiently meet the needs of the medical center’s patients or community.

OHA says that the closure does not meet the three criteria that would have led to the waiver’s approval. These criteria are listed as:

  • Maintains or improves the health and safety of the patients
  • Meets the individual and aggregate needs of patients
  • Does not jeopardize patient health and safety.

“Our goal is to ensure patients have timely access to maternity care. The closure of the Family Birth Center at Mount Hood Medical Center does not meet that goal,” said OHA’s Public Health Director Rachael Banks.

Christina Weathers, a registered nurse at the Mount Hood location, said “human value and human life is too important to risk the potential consequence of not being able to provide that service.”

Teddy Glemser, an ER nurse at Legacy, said the nurses often treat underserved communities and they’ve seen the impact since the closure.

“Since Legacy decided to close the birth center without permission, we have seen an abundance of pregnant women that are coming to the emergency department and a high percentage of them are non-English speaking,” Glemser said.

In addition to its denial, OHA has also opened a “separate but related investigation into the closure of the birth center without an approved waiver.”

According to a press release from OHA, this investigation will determine whether the health care facility has met state and federal requirements to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.

In response to the denial, Legacy officials issued a statement in which they said they are carefully reviewing the OHA’s letter — but will continue to divert patients.

“Once we have had the opportunity to thoroughly consider the decision and consult with the Oregon Health Authority to determine our next steps, we will provide additional information,” Legacy said. “In the meantime, the Mount Hood Family Birth Center will remain on divert status due to the lack of adequate physician staffing to provide safe patient care.”

Legacy says the safety and well-being of its staff and patients remain the top priority.

“We want to assure the public that we are fully committed to providing the best possible care to our patients. We appreciate the thorough and focused approach the Oregon Health Authority is bringing to this important process, and we look forward to continuing this conversation with them,” the statement continued. “We are also committed to keeping our patients, staff, physicians, partners and communities informed as we move forward and work to ensure the highest standards of care at Mount Hood Medical Center.”

In the case that Legacy has been found to be non-compliant, they will have 90 days to meet those requirements before risking their ability to bill payments through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Oregon Nurses Association supports OHA’s decision to decline Legacy’s waiver request.

According to a statement from ONA: “Nurses have been saying that Legacy’s decision to close the birthing center was a mistake for months. Not only has the community in East Multnomah County relied on Legacy Mt. Hood for these services for generations, but the closure of the birthing center would add additional burdens to accessing health care for an already underserved population.”

Nurses at the hospital tell KOIN 6 that damage control and a public apology should be the first steps from Legacy, but they also hope to see more advertisements from the hospital to increase patients coming there – especially after they cited low demand as a reason for closing.

“Legacy is going to have to do work to make sure that people know that that service is there,” Weathers said.

Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.