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Legacy reverses course on closure of Gresham birth center

Facing scrutiny from health officials, Legacy signaled it is assembling doctors in staff to reopen the maternity center within 90 days
The closure of Legacy's Mount Hood birth center was marked with a vigil on March 17, 2023. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
April 12, 2023

Legacy Health will reopen the maternity unit at its Gresham-based hospital weeks after closing it over the objections of lawmakers, community members and state health officials. 

Bahaa Wanly, president of Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center, announced in an email to staff on Tuesday that “Legacy will welcome pregnant patients at the Mount Hood Family Birth Center within the next 90 days.”

In a public statement, Portland-based Legacy did not explicitly explain its reversal of course from the March 19 closure of the facility. But it did note that the state had denied its application for approval of its plan to close the center— a condition of the hospital’s license.  It also referred to an ongoing state and federal investigation of Legacy’s move to close the center despite warnings of government sanctions if it did.

Announcement of the closure had sparked months of pressure from elected leaders, community members, hospital staff and the Oregon Nurses Association. Critics said the closure would put pregnant patients at risk while reducing access for diverse, less-affluent communities in the area.

One of the most vocal critics, state Rep. Zach Hudson, D-Troutdale, told The Lund Report, he was glad to see state regulations work as intended and put community needs first. 

“Government in general, bureaucracy in general tends to be long and drawn out,” he said. “Despite our best intentions, sometimes we don’t always get the results we want even though we have a law clearly set forth in statute.”

Legacy spokesperson Elizabeth Baker issued a statement saying the closure had been intended to be only temporary. “Our goal throughout this process was to transition the Mount Hood Family Birth Center to a new, safe, financially sustainable care model. We believe that East County needs and deserves labor and delivery services within the community.”

In explaining its application for a three-year waiver letting it shut down the center, Legacy had previously said the closure was triggered by providers refusing to agree to a new, less costly model of care. It did not publicly discuss any specific plans to reopen the center once new staff were found.

The health authority delivered to Legacy findings from an investigation into the closure on April 5, according to the statement. The health authority declined to share the findings, but Legacy said it will work with the state to resolve them.

The health authority, for its part, largely declined to comment on Legacy’s reopening announcement.

“As there is an open investigation related to the unauthorized closure of maternity services at the hospital located in Gresham, OHA has nothing more to share at this time,” reads the statement, which referred further questions to Legacy.  

When Legacy announced the closure in January, it said the maternity unit’s model of care was too costly. The health system planned to direct patients to Randall Children's Hospital in Portland while continuing to offer prenatal and women-centered care at Mount Hood Medical Center.

Last week, 360 nurses at the hospital voted to unionize with the Oregon Nurses Association, which represents more than 16,000 and health care workers in the state. The union, which had joined in the pressure campaign, issued a statement welcoming the reopening of the maternity unit. 

“Now we must remain vigilant to ensure Legacy follows through on its commitments to our community and to frontline health care workers,” reads the statement.” Legacy must fully reopen the birthing center as soon as possible and begin the difficult work of rebuilding our community's trust after choosing to close the center and putting its profits ahead of patients’ needs.” 

Teddy Glemser, a charge nurse at Mount Hood Medical Center’s emergency room who is expecting her to have her third child at the hospital in September, told The Lund Report that the news was met with “excitement, relief and tears of joy.”

Financially speaking, Legacy has faced struggles of late. The Moody’s bond rating service recently announced that it was changing Legacy’s outlook to “negative.” It kept Legacy’s bond rating at A1 —  a healthy grade — but noted the system has failed to meet some loan terms and has received waivers from lenders.

You can reach Jake at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.