Northern Maine Medical Center to close obstetrics unit

Latest hospital to shutter OB care, amid low birth rate and difficulties in keeping medical workers.
The exterior of the Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent.
Northern Maine Medical briefly shut down its maternity care unit for a few hours April 16 amid a staffing issue. Photo credit: Facebook.

Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent announced Tuesday that it is closing its obstetrics unit, citing the continuing decline in the birth rate and staff shortages at the hospital.   

The closure of the obstetrics unit at the hospital on the Canadian border will be effective May 26, the hospital said, becoming the latest OB clinic in Maine to close.

“The number of deliveries has continued to decline, and recruiting and retaining Obstetric staff with so few deliveries has been an ongoing challenge,” said Jeff Zewe, the chief executive officer at NMMC. “While we are disappointed that we have had to make this decision, we will continue to provide quality healthcare to all patients including expectant women through our primary care and other specialty services.”

In an apparent early sign of the difficulties at NMMC, the hospital briefly shut down its maternity care on April 16 from 7 a.m. to 1:30 pm “due to staffing availability,” according to Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Hospital officials briefed the Fort Kent town council in April amid reports circulating throughout the community that several employees had left the hospital, said Town councilor Jake Robichaud.

“The hospital is key to our town. It’s also one of the largest employers in the community,” Robichaud said Tuesday afternoon.

“They assured us they have not fired anyone and they’re working their way through a deficit,” added town manager Suzie Paradis.

Talking points circulated to doctors by hospital officials stressed that the decision was not financially related. They also said that three employees in the OB clinic would be offered other jobs within the organization.

In its statement, the hospital noted that more than 400 rural maternity units closed in the U.S. including rural hospitals in Maine between 2006 and 2020.

The hospital statement said that expectant mothers can deliver babies at Cary Memorial Hospital, which is about 40 miles away in Caribou. Zewe said his hospital was discussing with Cary Medical the establishment of outpatient clinics for prenatal and postpartum care at NMMC.

Zewe came to NMMC in February 2022, after working as President and CEO of Upper Allegheny Health System (UAHS) in western New York State.

If you have a story tip, please email contact@themainemonitor.org.

David Dahl is the editor of The Maine Monitor and can be reached by email at david@themainemonitor.org.

Kate Cough reports on climate change and the environment for The Maine Monitor, and can be reached by email at kate@themainemonitor.org.

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David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.

Kate Cough

Kate Cough is editor of The Maine Monitor. She previously served as enterprise editor for The Monitor while also covering energy and the environment and writing the weekly Climate Monitor newsletter. Before joining The Monitor, Kate was a beat reporter for The Ellsworth American and digital media strategist for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. Kate graduated with honors from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Magna Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College. Kate is an eighth generation Mainer, who lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, daughter, and dogs.
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