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Medical Center Guards Continue to Turn Away Women in Labor

Overcrowding continued Tuesday at UCI Medical Center, where for the third day in a row uniformed security guards asked women in labor to have their babies somewhere else.

Nine of the women who were stopped on Monday and Tuesday “chose to go elsewhere,” and what happened to them after that wasn’t known, said Fran Tardiff, spokeswoman for the medical center in Orange. “Once they leave here, we don’t know where they go,” she said.

Citing crowded and “unsafe” conditions in labor and delivery facilities, medical center officials in early June announced their controversial “obstetrical-diversion” policy.

Under that policy, whenever both the emergency room and maternity ward are full, security guards intercept women in labor outside the medical center, inform them that the hospital is full and hand them a map to other medical facilities. Women who have received prenatal care at UCI clinics are still admitted, however.

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The diversion period that continued Tuesday was the sixth and longest since the policy was announced June 2. It also resulted in more women “deflected” than ever before, hospital officials said.

Still in Effect

Most of the previous diversions have lasted three or four hours. The current one began at 2:30 p.m. Monday and was still in effect late Tuesday night. Tardiff said another “diversion” was in effect for nearly four hours Sunday afternoon.

Others occurred for several hours on June 2, 7, 18 and 21, but in some instances no patients were diverted, or only one was, Tardiff said.

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Despite the medical center’s attempt to limit admissions, the obstetrics ward has continued to be overcrowded. Doctors there delivered a record 558 babies in June in a ward designed to handle 250 deliveries a month. By midafternoon Tuesday, doctors said that 424 babies had been delivered so far in July.

Acting Chief of Obstetrics Thomas J. Garite could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but on Monday afternoon he expressed frustration at the continued overcrowding. The ward, which was designed to care for 13 patients a day, had held 25 in a 24-hour period ending Monday afternoon, he said.

Also, Garite said, “one person was turned away only to come back. We need to do this (diversion) policy a little more seriously,” he said.

Checking Against List

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Guards are supposed to be checking patients against a list supplied by the medical center to determine whether they have received prenatal care there, but some have simply displayed a brown card that indicates they have been seen at the medical center at some time in the past--and walked past the guards, Garite complained.

Officials from several nearby hospitals said Tuesday that they did not believe the women who were “diverted” this week from the medical center had come to their hospitals. But William Noce, executive director of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, said that his hospital has “seen additional patients since UCI’s diversion program was initiated.”

“Our philosophy is we will see women in active labor,” Noce said. But “this is a community problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.


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