The Waikato District Health Board will decide tomorrow whether to keep or close down its maternity units in Te Awamutu and Morrinsville.
While closing the Matariki and Rhoda Read units appears to make good financial sense - their demise would free up an estimated $461,350 of health board funds that could be reinvested elsewhere - the prospect of losing what many see as a vital community service could spur some board members to think twice about doing so.
Their judgment will be made at 1pm tomorrow, during an extra-lengthy board meeting in the Hockin Building on the Waikato Hospital campus.
A feasibility study commissioned by the board last year recommended the two units be closed and centralised to Hamilton, raising a storm of opposition led by mothers and midwives.
The board subsequently held a series of public meetings and sought feedback on its proposal. It received 168 written submissions through its feedback process.
Although copies of each submission - or a summary of how many were opposed to the closure plans - were not included in the agenda of tomorrow's meeting, a report by planning and funding general manager Brett Paradine to the board contained other indications that the proposal was not being looked on favourably by those it affected.
Among those indications were two petitions calling for the maternity units to be saved, including a 2525-signature petition from a Morrinsville and a Te Awamutu-oriented online petition that drew 1386 supporters, as of February 24.
Likewise, two Facebook groups that formed after the board's plans became known attracted a lot of "likes". Save Te Awamutu Maternity Services got 756 likes, while the Piako Maternity Action Group drew 509 likes.
And a Waikato Times online poll on December 5 attracted 434 voters, 87 per cent of whom thought the birth centres should be kept open.
In his report to the board, Mr Paradine recommended that following the closure of the two units, maternity "hubs" should be set up in each town, with a total of $60,000 per year in funding.
"There was clear feedback from most of those who responded from the communities centred around Morrinsville, Te Awamutu and Te Aroha that they value local birthing and immediate post-natal services," he said.
"There were also some suggestions early in the process that private or community groups may be able to provide the services at a lower cost to the DHB.
"Proposals to the effect or clear suggestions that lower-cost proposals would be developed did not however eventuate."
Also attending tomorrow's meeting will be Waipa district councillor Hazel Barnes, who has been organising opposition to the closure proposal in Te Awamutu.
Mrs Barnes said she feared the board would simply go along with Mr Paradine's recommendation to close the units without challenging it. "[The health board] are making it look like a money issue but the bottom line here is that it is a safety issue.
"Some things are more important than money. Babies don't arrive when they are ordered. There are always going to be things that go wrong for some mothers.
"What they are also missing is the whole point behind people having babies. They are making a family and you want to have your baby in a place where the family can go and see them.
"They don't want to have to trek miles to Hamilton to do that.
"And babies are part of a community. They deserve to be born in that community."
- Waikato Times