PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – With candles, signs and determination, former patients, staff and community members held a vigil Friday night on Stark Street to push back against Legacy Health’s decision to close the family birth center starting Saturday.

The Mount Hood location is the only birthing center for miles. Nurses working at the facility, such as ICU nurse Christina Weathers, said they’re concerned about how this decision will impact the community.

“It’s devastating to the people who live out here,” Weathers said. “For those who show up here, who aren’t aware that this is happening – despite all of our efforts to get the word out – it will be a shock.”

Jennifer Suarez, an ED charge nurse, agrees, adding that the decision affects everyone – both patients and staffers alike.

“It’s not good for the ER nurses who are going to have to take care of these laboring patients with very little training, it’s not good for the people who are going to land at our doorstep and it’s not good for the community,” Suarez said.

Starting March 18, Legacy says the hospital will be on “divert status,” meaning all maternity patients will now be diverted for care nearly 17 miles away at Randall Children’s Hospital.

“We are it in East County for miles and miles,” Suarez said. “And I keep talking about these mountain communities – like Welch’s and Brightwood and all those places that are a good 30 to 45 minutes away from here – and this is their first stop.”

Weathers said limiting care locations could even be dangerous for women in labor.

“To ask laboring women to drive another 45 minutes downtown to Randalls is over 90 minutes in the car. That’s a long time. And that’s ample time for there to be a disastrous and devastating outcome both for the baby and potentially the mother,” Weathers said.

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.

Of the six service area hospitals – 85% of East County births occur at a location other than Mount Hood.

But nurses told KOIN 6 the staffing shortage had been caused after Legacy announced they would be closing the center. Now they say they are worried this decision will impact those most vulnerable.

“This community, the Gresham area and surrounding areas, are underserved,” Suarez said. “Some people don’t have driver’s licenses, or cars, or the money to take a bus.”

Weathers said that’s what brought them to the vigil Friday night. 

“That’s why we’re here today, and after today. We’re fighting for that equity, that access to safe care and safe birthing for all families,” she said.

In response to the rally and OHA’s calling into question the legitimacy of this decision, Legacy Health said “we understand that this change has significant impact on our community, particularly for expectant people and families who were planning to give birth at Mount Hood medical center … 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.”

Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.

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