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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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Cape Regional to End Maternity Services

Cape Regional Medical Center

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – The Press of Atlantic City, in an article, quoted an official from Cape Regional Medical Center (CRMC), confirming that the hospital will no longer offer maternity care and childbirth, as of Sept. 15. That news sent a seismic shock wave through Cape May County. 

CRMC is one of 71 acute care hospitals in New Jersey and the only hospital in Cape May County. To end so basic a medical service as maternity care is a blow to a county that is already struggling to retain young families in the face of a relentless rise in the county’s median age. 

The reason given for ending maternity care was the loss of one of only two OB-GYN doctors connected with Cape Regional. So precarious were the resources for obstetrics that the movement of a single doctor from a practice affiliated with Cape Regional to a larger practice at Shore Medical Center meant the difference in Cape Regional’s ability to offer the service. 

The hospital made attempts to recruit a replacement OB-GYN doctor, but the efforts were not successful. The hospital has stated that it will continue those efforts and hopes to reopen maternity care at some point in the future. 

For now, Cape Regional will establish protocols for transfer of any patient who presents at its emergency room for birth to Shore Medical Center or AtlantiCare. 
A hospital spokesperson explained that expectant mothers will still have access to in-county prenatal care through CompleteCare, in Wildwood, or obstetrics practices affiliated with Shore Medical Center and AtlantiCare, which both maintain practice facilities in the county.

State records show that Cape Regional delivered 259 babies in 2021. Data from 2016 forward shows an annual decline in the number of births at CRMC. New Jersey Maternal Data Center shows 382 births in 2016; 324 in 2018; 309 in 2019; and 259 in 2021, which is a drop of one-third in the number of births since 2016. Whether that reflected a corresponding decrease in the size of the OBG-GYN practice at the hospital is not clear. 

What is clear is that as the number of births declined, the percentage of patients with Medicaid insurance increased. The most recent data shows a hospital insurance profile for obstetric patients different from the nearest alternative hospital, Shore Medical Center.  

In pre-Covid 2019, the state database shows Cape Regional maternity patients with 63% Medicaid insured, as compared to Shore, with 37%. 

New Jersey Health Assessment Data reports for 2020 that 757 births in New Jersey were to mothers whose home county was Cape May. This compares to 259 births at Cape Regional in 2021. The picture presented suggests that many mothers elected to give birth outside the county and those who gave birth inside the county were disproportionately eligible for Medicaid insurance coverage. 

Middle Township Mayor Timothy Donohue is quoted in the Press’ article as calling the news from CRMC “a big step backward for the county.”  

Cape May City Mayor Zack Mullock told the Herald that he was shocked by the news, adding, “I don’t think we can let this stand.”  

Mullock said two of his children were born at Cape Regional, as were two of his siblings. Cape May City residents will be among the county’s population furthest from hospital maternity services if they must traverse the over 30 miles from the resort city to Somers Point. 

Mullock spoke of efforts he, as mayor, was a part of to attract a young doctor to the county. He said the efforts were successful. Such intervention may need to be more frequent since overall state data suggests that Cape May County is already below the national median goal of 90 primary care physicians per 100,000 of the population. A report from the Rutgers University New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing confirms a primary care shortage in the county. 

One county resident emailed a statement that the news from Cape Regional made the county feel, to him, as an “outpost.” That wake-up call may jar county and municipal officials to learn more about potential areas of county vulnerabilities in health care services. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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