A petition to save maternity services in Morrinsville attracted almost 2500 signatures in less than three weeks.
The Waikato District Health Board commissioned a feasibility study on the birthing unit at Rhoda Read Continuing Care and Birthing Unit which recommended the facility close and women from the area have their babies in Hamilton.
Statistics presented by the board showed the number of birth and post-natal stays in Rhoda Read had declined, while the facility in Studholme St reportedly cost more than $660,000 a year to run.
The petition, initiated by retired midwife Ally Thomas and circulated by Piako Maternity Action Group, was handed over to health board representatives at a public meeting in Morrinsville on Tuesday.
A Facebook page has also been set up by the action group.
Many of the same issues raised at a similar meeting in Te Aroha a week earlier surfaced again in the events centre lounge.
While the health board said it had maintained the birthing unit and upgraded equipment, this was doubted by midwives and mothers at the meeting. One grandmother said Rhoda Read had not changed in more than 20 years and told the health board it "needed to take care of these places instead of knocking them down".
The health board's general manager for planning and funding, Brett Paradine, said the unit at Rhoda Read was under-used and costly to run. "It is not sustainable in the long term."
However, a member of the audience said the health board had made a "massive assumption" in thinking just Morrinsville mothers used Rhoda Read, with the catchment also taking in Te Aroha and across the Hauraki Plains.
The same speaker said the health board figures gave an "unbalanced viewpoint" and Morrinsville mothers did want to have their babies locally.
Some said they experienced complications and had to birth in Hamilton, returning to Rhoda Read for post-natal care. They said the latter figures were not included by the health board, skewing the result.
"It is an essential service for a percentage of women," said one speaker.
"There is a need for something here."
Another said the maternity unit in Thames was getting 50 per cent more use because it had been upgraded. "If you upgrade the facility [in Morrinsville] women will come."
Mr Paradine said the Rhoda Read proposal was not about cost-cutting.
"If a dollar is not spent there, it will be spent elsewhere."
For 40 per cent of the time the Morrinsville unit was fully staffed with no-one in it, he said.
Many in the audience expressed concern about travel costs to Hamilton and a separation from family support in Morrinsville. "Rhoda Read may not be the best but it is the closest."
One parent said the health board needed to spend money on Rhoda Read and promote the facility.
"It's a no-brainer," he said.
"Mothers would feel more comfortable to birth here."
*Submissions on the future of the birthing unit at Rhoda Read close on February 21, with a decision confirmed in March. To make a submission, post to Planning & Funding, Waikato DHB, PO Box 934, Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org; online waikatodhb.health.nz/birthing; or phone 0800 100 178.
- Waikato Times