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Is being born in Ely unsustainable?

In light of the stunning decision by Essentia this past week, it was suggested there should be a “Last Baby Born in Ely Contest.” This would be funny if it wasn’t true.
Effective July 1 of next year, there won’t be scheduled births in Ely. The reasons appear to be health-related but there are holes in the argument for this troubling decision that even its proponents concede is “extremely difficult.”
And without question it’s a decision that’s a major, major blow to the community.
Let’s start with the symbolism. You can be a lot of things in life, but you can only have one birth place. For over 125 years, Ely has been a place where you could take your first breath of air. Thousands of people have had Ely, Minnesota listed on their birth certificate.
There are pillars in a community and having a fully-functioning hospital and clinic ranks right up there with police and fire departments, schools, parks and libraries. Now we’ll have a hospital that won’t need a birthing suite anymore.
If the idea was to add fuel to the fire on whether Ely is a sustainable community, eliminating a key health care service equals a truckload of fuel oil. It flies in the face of a series of efforts, from the city’s own economic development attempts to several private and grassroots appeals to promote Ely as a place to live, work and grow your business and family.
 It’s been made crystal clear that the reason this is being done is because we just don’t have enough births in Ely anymore.
During an interview with clinic and hospital staff Tuesday, we asked what the number would be in order to keep having babies born in Ely. If we’re down to 15 now, would it be 25? Or 30? Or more? It’s a question that remains unanswered.
We did hear the main concern is safety both for the child and the mother because the doctors here don’t do enough deliveries to keep their skills up. It’s a reasonable and sound argument but at the same time it raises questions about why the safety issue is being raised now and not earlier.
And forgive the simplicity but how is it safer to have expectant mothers drive an hour (or two hours) in order to deliver a baby?
This decision will have an impact on both our health care system and the community. Our hospital is going to lose out financially. Fewer births will go right to the bottom line.
Essentia may not stand to lose as much financially if an expectant mother in Ely drives to Virginia, Hibbing or Duluth for their prenatal, delivery and post-natal care. Unless of course they go to a non-Essentia facility. But the hospital loses either way.
We took a look at social media after this decision came out. Here are some responses:
“This will be really unattractive to young people wanting to move to town. Unless you’re a midwife.”
“They are shooting themselves in the foot. I don’t wanna deliver my next child in Virginia.”
“This is shocking! Back to frontier style medicine. End of the road.”
“What a bummer. (My daughter) came very close to being born in the car on our way to Virginia. I sure hope that doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“Sounds like a few less good paying jobs in town and one more reason for new people not to want to move here.”
We know that health care in a community our size carries few guarantees. Getting doctors to practice here can be a challenge. And if the doctors here decide they don’t want to (or can’t) deliver babies here anymore then it’s highly unlikely that decision will change.
And just like the closure of the school’s swimming pool, decisions like this are rarely undone. Come July 1 the hospital will be forced to sell off the equipment in the birthing room. If there’s an emergency, the delivery could still take place in the ER (instead of at the Y-Store).
We’ll lose another part of what makes Ely a great place to live. We’ll lose the very first part: being able to say you or your child was born here.

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