The number of Lawrence women going out of town to have babies appears to be increasing, but that trend may be reversed in the next few years, medical officials said this week.
According to state and Lawrence Memorial Hospital figures, the number of babies born at LMH has been somewhat consistent with the number of recorded live births for Douglas County residents each year from 1986 to 1990.
But in 1991, a slight decrease appeared in the number of LMH births compared to the number of live births the state recorded for Douglas County residents, signaling a trend that more women currently are leaving town to have their babies.
In 1991, LMH had 949 births and the Kansas Bureau of Vital Statistics recorded 1,081 births for Douglas County residents in 1991.
No figures were available for 1992, but LMH Executive Director Robert Ohlen said a continuing short-term trend of more women leaving the city to have babies may be related to a shortage of gynecological and obstetrical specialists in the city who are affiliated with Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
"I THINK IT'S fair to say that we've lost some patients in recent years," he said.
Ohlen said the number of Lawrence women having babies at LMH was "in the 90 percentile, but I would say we're closer to 90 (percent) than 95."
The number of women leaving Lawrence to have babies has increased by an estimated 5 percent in the last year, LMH officials estimated.
Part of the trend, Ohlen said, is that LMH in 1990 lost two of its four OB-GYN specialists. Since then, it has added one specialist and currently has three OB-GYN physicians.
One of the currently practicing physicians, Dr. Debra Placek, will leave Lawrence Aug. 28 after 10 years of practice, according to a letter she mailed to her patients.
In the letter, Placek said she has asked the Women's Healthcare Group to care for her patients. The group maintains a local office for routine checkups, but delivers babies at Humana Hospital in Overland Park and at Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Mission.
ASKED IF LMH is concerned about Placek's recommendation that her patients go to an out-of-town facility, Ohlen said, "I think you would have to ask her why she did what she did."
Placek was not available for comment Friday.
Ohlen said that if LMH loses more patients, "Obviously, it's lost business for us.
"Lost activity affects the number of people we employ and our financial resources. Obviously, there's a ratio in the number of patients to the number of staff . . . but I think over the course of time we will gain back some of what we've lost."
Although Placek is leaving, another OB-GYN physician, Dr. Carolyn Johnson, will establish a practice here on Aug. 1 with the Lincoln Center Group of Topeka, which established a local office in 1991. Doctors in the Lincoln Center group maintain an office here and deliver babies at LMH.
DR. STEPHEN Vierthaler, a physician with the group, said Friday that a third physician, Dr. Jeff Gleason, would join the group in 1993 giving Lawrence a total of four OB-GYN specialists.
Gleason is finishing a residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Vierthaler said.
Within a few years, he said, the additional specialists may bring more women who are having babies to LMH.
"I think it's going to even out," he said.
Vierthaler said that many of Placek's patients may go to Johnson when she arrives in August, or to other doctors in Lawrence.
"I don't think that when Dr. Placek sells a practice like that, that all 2,000 or 3,000 patients will leave town," he said. "Some may leave in the short term . . . but there are always going to be people who will want to go to Kansas City to have their baby."
LMH OFFICIALS also stress that at least 12 local family practice physicians offer obstetrical care, and provide adequate resources for needs in Lawrence.
LMH has delivered about 79 babies per month in the last year, and Humana Hospital delivers about 15 babies per month from Lawrence women, hospital representatives said.
Vierthaler estimated that 80 to 90 percent of all women who have their babies out of town do so through Humana.