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‘It’s bittersweet, but we’ll carry on’

Perry Memorial bids farewell to Women’s Healthcare Unit

PRINCETON — It was about celebrating the years of memories and stories shared within the hallways of Perry Memorial Hospital’s Women’s Healthcare Unit during a farewell open house on Friday, where current and former staff members, along with family, friends and former patients said their last good-byes.

On Jan. 1, the unit closed its doors after 93 years of service. Regulatory changes, changes in patient volumes, payer mix and significant reductions in state and federal reductions were among many factors that triggered the decision to close.

“Our board of directors wrestled long and hard over the decision to close the OB service,” hospital CEO Rex Conger said.”The final blow was the changes that came with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act combined with the Illinois Smart Act.

“The hospital recognized that we could no longer absorb the $500,000 losses that the OB Unit was generating each year with the anticipated additional reduction of $1.1 million form Medicare and Medicaid that we were scheduled to experience from 2013 and into 2014,” Conger said.

As several individuals packed the halls on Friday, they shared tears, smiles and laughter while looking back on the their times spent in the unit.

Among the former nurses were Karen Towns and Mimi Cofoid. They talked about the how the unit was more than just a workforce, but a family of nurses who were learning and experiencing the job together as a team.

“Perry grew us up,” they said.

Michele Rossman, director of Acute Care Services, thanked each current nurse on staff as she presented them with a plaque and shared their strengths and what they added to the unit. She called the nurses “the heart of the unit.”

Conger shared bits of history of the unit, beginning in 1920s when it was first noted there were five bassinets.

“Based on our records dating back to 1930, there have been 41 physicians and two midwives who have provided OB services at Perry,” he said. “If you realize the hundreds of hospital staff who cared for or assisted with the care of all those moms and dads and babies, that’s an army of individuals who created a memorable experience.”

He also looked back on the annual volume of deliveries, naming the peak years from 1978 to 1988, with an average of 324 babies each year. The top year was in 1982, with 395 babies delivered. From 1989 to 1999 the hospital’s average number of births-per-year was 216, and the average from 2000 to 2012 was 139 births.

“That number was declining, and from 2012, we were under 100 babies delivered each year,” Conger said.

Dr. Sripen Lavavej and Dr. Martin Faber were in the crowd and were both recognized for their years of service.

Faber called the day a “bittersweet” one.

“Since 1978, up until this last day, I have personally thought that the obstetrical experience at Perry Memorial Hospital was probably the safest and most cared for and most rewarding in the whole area of northern Illinois,” he said. “It’s bittersweet, but we’ll carry on.”

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