Women's Health a Driving Force in Watford City and Williston Collaboration

Friday, September 30, 2022

Women's health a driving force in Watford City and Williston collaboration | Health | willistonherald.com

by Cari Tomlinson ctomlinson@willistonherald.com

Sep 25, 2022

Community voices ring out loud and clear when it comes to women’s health in western North Dakota.

A joint press release by McKenzie County Healthcare Systems (MCHS) and Great Plains Women’s Health Center (GPWHC) stated that across the country there is an ongoing decline of obstetric services in critical access hospitals.

MCHS in a collaborative partnership with the GPWHC facility of Williston has chosen to go against that grain.

“In conversations with some of the area employers, I’ve heard loud and clear, the lack of obstetric services is a barrier to recruiting workers with growing families,” CEO of MCHS Pete Edis said. “I have a huge amount of gratitude and respect for our friends at Great Plains Women’s Health Center both for the work they did to get OB off the ground prior to my arrival and for the steadfast support they continue to provide to this day.”

“The Watford City community told the hospital board that they wanted to be able to have OB services in the community,” Practice Manager Leland Tong of GPWHC in Williston said. “MCHS built the hospital with a couple of labor and delivery rooms and postpartum rooms even though they did not have any OBGYNs in the community.”

Tong explained that MCHS then reached out to GPWHC and that at the same time GPWHC was looking at Watford City as a potential market for what they were doing. The collaboration grew as they began looking at what it would take to bring obstetrics in a safe way to Watford City.

Edis went on to say that Tong made the introductions that ultimately led to hiring a full-time obstetrician as the primary physician for MCHS’ soon to be obstetrics service line.

MCHS and GPWHC confirmed that implementing elements required to provide a safety net needed to ensure quality obstetrics services in an outlying community is a huge undertaking. MCHS and GPWHC stated that challenges exist such as securing an adequate blood supply at a time when there is a national shortage of blood products, effectively managing financial resources amid supply chain issues and inflation, and securing OBGYN providers despite the fact that these physicians are in high demand and can typically command a premium salary working in urban areas. Tong went on to say that GPWHC and MCHS have worked together over the last several years to identify the pieces of technology, equipment and staffing that needs to be put in place from a facility standpoint.

“Obstetrics requires 24/7 coverage because babies just don’t come during the day,” Tong said.

“To McKenzie County’s credit, that community has really stood behind this endeavor and it is one that isn’t cheap and takes a great deal to bring in,” Tong said. “The personnel that they need to bring in is expensive. And they have shown a commitment throughout this time period.”

Tong stated that at one point, GPWHC looked at the possibility of providing coverage for both hospitals. But as they evaluated the logistics, it became apparent that if McKenzie County was able to hire their own OBGYN it would be better for everyone involved.

“Even in the last two or three years we were going to Watford City with an outreach clinic at least once a week; sometimes twice a week depending on our staffing need and demands,” Tong said.

Edis emphasized that GPWHC’s assistance in cultivating the relationship with the primary obstetric physician that’s been hired may very well have made the difference in her decision to relocate to Watford City.

While MCHS has been constructing a cesarean section suite, hiring additional personnel to staff labor and delivery and preparing equipment for the obstetrics department, GPWHC has been traveling to Watford City from Williston to provide obstetrics and women’s health services. As MCHS deploys an obstetrics program this fall, both organizations will continue to maintain a strong partnership, where women’s health needs are addressed. GPWHC will provide gynecological surgeries at MCHS and have agreed to serve as a resource to MCHS’ new obstetricians.

Tong explained that GPWHC will still be using MCHS facilities for surgeries and providing other women’s health services in the area. GPWHC will discontinue their outreach clinic in Watford City once MCHS new obstetrics staff are on board and they will be doing all the deliveries there. “In order to get their physicians fully engaged and up and running in the community, it makes sense for them to be the primary OBGYN in Watford City,” Tong said. “Dr. Tong and Dr. Solberg at GPWHC have been in the community since 2003 and in private practice since 2006 so they are very committed to providing access to women’ health in northwestern North Dakota. That is why they support what MCHS is doing.”

“It expands access to women’s health in western North Dakota and women deserve good health care and deserve access to health care. This is a way we saw to improve those services and make them more accessible. We do not see MCHS as competition as much as colleagues and collaborators in western North Dakota women’s health services,” Tong said.

“Women’s health is the driver here,” Tong said. “Many can tell a tale about labor and delivery programs going away in rural communities. We will continue to look at ways we can participate to serve women.”

Both MCHS and GPWHC anticipate continuing to work in collaboration in the future. Obstetric services will be opening at MCHS in early November.