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Doctor shortage forces closure of Vermont birthing center

Rural areas try to attract physicians

BENNINGTON, Vt. -- No need to read a horoscope to figure out this weekend would not have been the best to be born in Bennington. The local hospital closed its birthing center because it lacked a pediatrician on call.

Many rural parts of Vermont have been scrambling in recent years to attract more physicians to address a chronic doctor shortage, and that problem came home for expectant mothers in the region on Friday, when Southwestern Vermont Medical Center made its announcement.

"We reached this difficult decision after much deliberation," Greg Smith, the chairman of the Southwestern Vermont Health Care Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "After all, welcoming babies into the world has been a core service of our hospital since the first birth here the day the hospital opened in 1918." Birthing centers have pediatricians on call in case something goes wrong with a newborn in the first hours.

The Bennington hospital has been working with one regular pediatrician on call since January, when a second pediatrician quit the call rotation. It's been filling the gaps with temporary pediatricians, emergency room doctors and others, but the patch is wearing thin. "As the situation has gone on, we have not found more temporary people to fill the gaps, and the few people doing that are getting tired," said hospital spokeswoman Dianne Cutillo. "We've also deliberated a lot more as to whether having backups is up to our quality and standard of care."

A new pediatrician is moving to the area from Massachusetts in September, but it is expected to take two to three months after that to get that doctor a Vermont license. Until then, the hospital is advising women likely to give birth on a weekend to make a trip out of town.