Des Moines’ Iowa Lutheran Hospital to close its birthing unit

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Des Moines’ Iowa Lutheran Hospital plans to close its 16-bed maternity unit, due to a drop in births there.

The hospital’s owner, UnityPoint Health-Des Moines, told staff members about the decision Tuesday.

“As you know, Iowa Lutheran has a long history of providing high-quality, innovative OB care. However, the number of babies delivered at Iowa Lutheran Hospital has steadily decreased over the last few years and we currently average one birth per day,” Steve Stephenson, a physician and executive with the company, wrote in an email to the staff.

Stephenson said the birthing services would be consolidated at UnityPoint’s Iowa Methodist Medical Center, which is southwest of Iowa Lutheran Hospital in downtown Des Moines, and at Methodist West hospital, which is in West Des Moines. Iowa Methodist’s birthing unit has 45 beds, and Methodist West’s unit has 24 beds. 

The Iowa Lutheran unit will close July 31, and all of its employees will transfer to the other hospitals.

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Des Moines’ UnityPoint Health building is seen on June 28, 2019. Formed in 1993, the Iowa Health System started as a merge of the Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Iowa Lutheran Hospital. (Photo: Olivia Sun/The Register)

Tom Mulrooney, Iowa Lutheran’s chief operating officer, said in a news release late Tuesday morning that the move also would help it free up space at Iowa Lutheran Hospital for more surgery and general medicine patients.

“In addition, we know we will need more beds later this year as we care for both flu and COVID-19 patients. We are taking proactive steps now to be more fully prepared to meet community need,” the release said.

At least 33 other Iowa hospitals have closed their birthing units since 2000. Many of the other closures have involved rural hospitals, forcing patients to go to other towns or even counties to give birth. The Iowa Lutheran Hospital closure won’t cause such disruptions, because Des Moines area mothers still have the choice of giving birth at UnityPoint’s two other local hospitals or at MercyOne Medical Center or Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines.

The pending closure comes as Iowa continues to see declining birth rates. The state’s birth rate, like much of the country’s, never recovered after slumping during the recession that began in 2008. Last year, 37,557 babies were born in Iowa, according to preliminary figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health. That represented an 8% decline from the 40,835 born in 2007. 

State data show births are continuing to drop this year, with 11,730 recorded in the first four months of 2020, a 3% decline from the 12,092 in the first four months of 2019. Many demographers are predicting births rates will fall even further in the next year, as a result of the recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at tleys@registermedia.com or 515-284-8449. 

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