Ginger Kalafatis burst through the doors of Jasper Memorial Hospital, straight into her worst nightmare.
It was Labor Day 2019 when two women showed up at the hospital, ready to give birth. Kalafatis, a longtime labor and delivery nurse, assessed the situation, her heart racing. One woman was delivering prematurely; the other had previous cesarean sections and no prenatal care.
This shouldn’t have been difficult. For 50 years, the labor and delivery unit at this small rural hospital near the Louisiana border had helped women safely bring their babies into the world.
But not anymore. Just three days prior, hospital administrators closed the unit, intending to get out of the business of delivering babies.
Kalafatis knew these women needed the higher level of care provided by a labor and delivery unit. But the closest facility was an hour away. Even by ambulance, even by helicopter, she worried about the risk to four lives if the hospital tried to transfer them.
Briefly, Kalafatis let the anger in. She’d tried to warn about the consequences of losing the last labor and delivery unit in this five-county region larger than the state of Connecticut. Now, just as she’d predicted, lives were on the line.
But anger wasn’t going to deliver these babies. Kalafatis took a deep breath and got to work.
The hospital was able to safely transfer one of the women. But the other was too far along. She would have to deliver vaginally in the emergency room, a potentially risky proposition after having had previous C-sections.
A spokesperson for Christus Health, the hospital system that operates Jasper Memorial, declined to comment on this case, citing patient privacy concerns.
As Kalafatis prepared this woman for labor, she heard voices she recognized — family physicians who had delivered babies at this hospital for years. These women weren’t their patients, “but of course they came,” she said.
“Someone called them, so they came,” she said. “That’s just what you’d do in Jasper.”
Together, doctors and nurses safely delivered the baby. Kalafatis left the hospital that day, relieved. Surely now, she thought, hospital administrators would see how desperately her community needed a place to give birth. They would find a way to recruit more physicians, better staff the hospital, and turn the lights back on.
But more than three years later, the unit remains closed.