Commissioner Donnie Potter Concerned that UNC Health Caldwell has Eliminated Maternity Services

(Note: This is the second article in a series regarding the decision by UNC Health Caldwell to discontinue maternity services. Read the first article here).

LENOIR, N.C. – In November 2021, UNC Health Caldwell hospital discontinued maternity services, though without any public notification beyond a statement on their website. When doing so, they did not alert Caldwell County Commissioners in advance, according to Caldwell County Commissioner Donnie Potter.

In a recent interview, Potter expressed displeasure with the lack of transparency from the hospital, shared concerns for the moms-to-be and their babies, and warned of adverse economic impacts on the county should the hospital permanently abandon maternity services, as it seems to have done.

The interview is below in a Question & Answer format. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Appalachian Chronicle (AC): UNC Health Caldwell discontinued Labor & Delivery services in our community in November 2021. Did the hospital notify the County Commissioners in advance so that they could begin looking for a solution so that our resident moms-to-be don’t have to leave their county to have their baby?

POTTER: No. They did not tell the County Commission directly. They did notify our Health Department at the time. We weren’t made aware of it until sometime afterwards. Some time had passed. We found out about it through an incident at an event. It was due to the Covid pandemic because they had to take care of the mass influx of patients coming in. At the time it was reasonable and not unexpected.


AC: Are you concerned about the implications for the health of the moms-to-be and babies for patients having to travel out of county a minimum of a 30 minute ride one-way for every appointment and then delivery?

POTTER: Yes. I’m very concerned about the decision to not reinstate the L&D services in a more reasonable time after Covid. That is a big concern. One of the things that was disappointing was that there was no consideration given to what burden this would put on EMS.

AC: UNC is the state’s flagship university, and also one of the state’s largest healthcare systems. Do you feel betrayed that what should be the leader in public health in the state has abandoned this most critical service in our county. Shouldn’t serving vulnerable populations be a priority?

POTTER: I don’t feel disappointed by Chapel Hill because I don’t know what they knew, but I do feel a little disappointed in our local leadership.

AC: Are you concerned that this will hurt economic recruiting? In attempting to attract young families to make Lenoir their permanent home, healthcare and education will top the list. How can county officials convince families this is a good place to live when they can’t even start their families here, literally speaking?

POTTER: I’m extremely concerned about the economic impact this has on our communities, both for economic growth and young families wanting to call Caldwell County home.

AC: Moms make most health care decisions for their families. For many of those moms-to-be, that first decision is choosing where to have their baby. Are you concerned about the long-term implications of losing those customers forever?

POTTER: Our hospitals are a critical part of our community and without OB services one would think it would have a negative impact on families and our ability to recruit and retain these families.

“We would love to see an improvement in communication between county government and our hospital so that when these decisions or potential decisions are made, we can prepare for how it will impact the Health Department and EMS.”

Caldwell County Commissioner Donnie Potter

AC: Do you have a comment on the transparency by the hospital’s leadership regarding this issue?

POTTER: We would love to see an improvement in communication between county government and our hospital so that when these decisions or potential decisions are made, we can prepare for how it will impact the Health Department and EMS.

AC: Do you have anything to add?

POTTER: Yes. I would ask how the people who donated to build our L&D department feel about this. I’ve always been a big supporter of our local hospital. Our community cannot prosper without it. It is the backbone of our community and economic growth. As people age, the first thing they look at is what kind of healthcare is available to them. If I’m a young family moving here because I have a job opportunity, the first thing I’m going to think about is healthcare. Can I have my baby here locally?

For now, the answer is no.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2023. Feature Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

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