Three years ago, the obstetrics department at Columbia Memorial Health (CMH) had an emerging problem to solve: How could they continue to offer robust maternity care in an area experiencing a rapidly decreasing birthrate?
"A decade ago, we were seeing more than 500 births a year," says Tish Finnegan, Columbia Memorial Health's vice president of care center administration. "But because our communities are aging, we're currently at about 300 births a year—a number that is continuing to decline."
Recognizing that they had to adapt in order to continue offering all of the services their maternity patients needed, Columbia Memorial Health entered into a partnership with Albany Med, located about 30 miles away from their own facilities in Hudson. With this partnership, patients in Columbia and Greene counties can continue to receive the majority of their pre- and post-natal care with their local doctors at Columbia Memorial Health while having access to the state-of-the-art delivery services at Albany Med.
"Many of us have experienced how difficult it can be to schedule appointments far away—ones that might take a whole afternoon to get to," says Dr. Clifford Belden, CMH's Chief Medical Officer. "That's why we're committed to offering as many services here as we can. Our patients are grateful that they can continue to see someone in their own community."
This partnership also provides CMH patients with increased access to care from specialists at Albany Med. "We have a maternal fetal medicine physician specifically trained to work with women with higher risk pregnancies who comes down to see patients every week," Dr. Belden explains. "Having [that resource] locally is important because it helps us make sure our patients are getting the appropriate care they need."
To ensure continuity of care and informed decision-making, CMH employs a maternity program specialist, who works closely with both medical teams to make sure all involved healthcare providers have up-to-date information on each patient's care. She also acts as a key point of contact for the expecting parents themselves, answering questions, offering resources, and helping schedule tours of Albany Med's childbirth facilities in the months leading up to each due date.
"Our current maternity program specialist, Cathy Sohotra, has more than 35 years of OB/GYN nursing experience," Finnegan says. "She was on CMH's delivery floor for years. People in our community know and trust her," Dr. Belden adds.
In addition to traditional medical maternity services, CMH patients also benefit from Albany Med's educational offerings, which include prepared childbirth classes and support groups for a wide range of topics, such as cesarean birth, breastfeeding, infant care, and becoming a sibling.
Overall, Columbia Memorial Health's partnership with Albany Med has bolstered their offerings to maternity patients and new mothers. "Anytime you have a change, people can be skeptical," Dr. Belden says. "But we've been overwhelmingly surprised at how positive the feedback on this partnership has been. Our patients have been impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the staff at Albany Med. This is the right partner for us, and it's the right partner for our patients."