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Maternity ward at Langley Air Force Base to close — but pregnant women aren't being told why

A pregnant servicemember

ARIEL D. PARTLOW/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 31, 2019

HAMPTON, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Pregnant servicemembers and military spouses in Hampton Roads say they are scrambling to find doctors to deliver their babies after officials at Langley Air Force Base Hospital told them its maternity ward is closing.

Several local health providers and a patient at Langley told The Virginian-Pilot that women due after March 30 are being referred to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth — the closest military hospital — or private practice. Many more women discussed the change on Facebook.

Through a spokesman, the Langley hospital did not answer a reporter's questions about the labor and delivery unit nearly every business day the past week. On Thursday, after The Pilot posted a story online, a base spokesman emailed a statement from Air Force Col. Mark Nassir, the hospital’s commander.

"Due to anticipated staffing limitations, we are actively working with military and civilian healthcare teams in the Tidewater community for assistance in the care of our pregnant patients," Nassir said in the statement. "We will continue to meet the healthcare needs of our patients at Langley, until care is established with partner providers. The dedicated staff at Langley Hospital are focused on safe, high quality care."

An earlier statement from the spokesman referred to the base transitioning "to a new model of health care delivery," but no further details were available.

A spokeswoman for Naval Medical Center Portsmouth said in an email the center couldn't comment on the "Air Force issue."

"If a closure is announced by the Air Force, we will have a better idea on the way ahead with the referral of patients to other military treatment facilities in the area," spokeswoman Christina Johnson said in the email.

Susan Boyd, a patient at Langley whose husband is active duty Air Force, is 19 weeks pregnant and said she was told the unit was closing when she went in for a recent appointment.

Since then, she's seen military spouses discuss the issue constantly on Facebook groups, saying they are having a hard time finding new doctors if they are past around 25 weeks pregnant.

"It's just leaving a lot of women in a situation where they are scrambling to find an OB that will take their transfer of care," Boyd said in a text message. "The popular OB practices that spouses constantly recommend are filling up fast."

OB-GYN Associates of Hampton confirmed the practice is taking in many patients that are transferring from Langley.

SheéLee Rock, a local doula and childbirth educator, said she's currently working with an active duty Air Force mom due March 29 — one day before the deadline she said was given by the Langley hospital.

"If she doesn't have her baby by March 30, then she has to go elsewhere," Rock said. "That's a lot of pressure for moms."

Rock added it's a shame Langley's maternity ward could close because of its good reputation.

"In my experience, Langley labor and delivery is exceptional," Rock said. "It's an amazing place with an amazing staff."

Almost 1,100 babies were delivered at Langley in 2016, according to statistics from the Military Health System. The number's stayed consistently above 1,000 since 2013, the first year numbers were available. At Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, the number has ranged from 2,800 to 3,300.

Further complicating matters is health insurance. Some moms are saying on social media that they've been turned away from private providers depending on their Tricare plan, Boyd said.

The Center for Women's Health, which has locations in Newport News and Hampton, generally accepts Tricare Select insurance but not Tricare Prime, said Amanda Shaner, who works the center's front desk.

Shaner said she was aware of the closure but that the center has not yet seen any influx in patients.

Boyd has found care with Jennifer Rector, a midwife in Newport News who's offering prenatal care to many of the women affected by the Langley closure.

"Prenatal care is so important during the 3rd trimester," Boyd said in a text message.

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