Põlva and Valga hospitals will close their labor and delivery departments this fall, meaning that local women will have to give birth either in Võru or Tartu in the future.
“Closing the delivery departments has been on the agenda for years due to low number of births,” said Maivi Parv from the Estonian Health Insurance Board. She said that there are three hospitals in South Estonia that handle fewer than 300 annual births.
The Põlva and Valga hospitals saw 245 and 138 births respectively in 2017. The Estonian gynecologists’ society finds that a hospital needs to handle 400-500 births a year to retain its qualification.
The University of Tarty Clinic offers top-level care for mothers and babies. The South Estonia Hospital in Võru will retain its labor and delivery department that will in the future deliver the babies of a part of women in Põlva county as the cities are just 27 kilometers apart. Most women in Valga county will have to travel 86 kilometers to Tartu.
Head of treatment at the South Estonia Hospital Agnes Aart said that obstetrical care will remain close enough for women in Põlva county. “While the distance between Valga and Tartu is greater, there hasn’t been a delivery department in Lääne county since 2001,” she said. “Women travel 100 kilometers to Tallinn to give birth, and we haven’t had any problems.”
The doctor said that women will be taken to the hospital using ambulances if necessary. “There will be professional medical staff nearby in case of rapid births,” she said.
Both Põlva and Valga will retain full prenatal care as well as funding for the delivery department for this year and next – hospitals can use these sums to improve availability of other medical services.
Circumstances in favor of retaining the department at the South Estonia Hospital include Võru’s geographical location and the best intensive care unit of the three southern hospitals.
Member of the board of the University of Tartu Clinic and chairman of the supervisory boards of all three South Estonia hospitals Mart Einasto said that Põlva has half a year to reorganize obstetrical care. “Very little will change for women giving birth,” he explained. “Changes will only concern people who used to walk to the hospital to give birth, but I believe most people do not fit that description.”
Member of the board of Valga Hospital Marek Seer said the hospital is discussing the health insurance board’s proposal to close the delivery department and that the matter will be heard by the supervisory board in the coming weeks. “The proposal is worth considering,” he said. “A labor and delivery department simply cannot survive without more births.”