hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News May 2024



Birthing center to stay open with state aid


The only remaining maternity ward in Rensselaer County will stay open after receiving a promise of $5 million in new state grants.

St. Peter’s Health Partners announced April 29 that it will keep the Burdett Birth Center in Troy open for at least five years while the hospital system works to improve the center’s economic viability. St. Peter’s had set off an outcry last summer when it sought approval from state health officials to shut down the birthing center, citing $2.3 million in annual losses.

The Burdett center, which occupies one floor of Samaritan Hospital in Troy but operates as a separate legal entity, delivers about 900 babies annually. Its supporters have praised the quality of the birth experience at Burdett – and the center’s limited use of the medical interventions common in standard hospital settings.

The Times Union of Albany reported that Stephen Hanks, the chief executive of St. Peter’s Health Partners, announced the decision to keep the Burdett center open at an April 29 news briefing at which he was accompanied Assemblyman John McDonald III, D-Cohoes. McDonald was part of a bipartisan coalition of local officials who had called for the center to remain open, and he praised the citizen activists who kept up public pressure to save the facility.

According to the newspaper’s account, McDonald said that in addition to keeping the birth center open, the new grant funds will be used to increase staff training around issues of poverty and racial equity – and to help support increased pre- and postnatal care.

Burdett Birth Center serves a racially diverse mix of patients, including a disproportionate share of low-income and uninsured families from the cities of Troy and Rensselaer as well as from rural towns to the east.

If the center had closed, there would no longer have been any birthing facility in the counties along New York’s eastern border between Rhinebeck and Saranac Lake. Columbia County has had no maternity ward since Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson stopped delivering babies in 2019, and Washington County lost its last facility two decades ago when Mary McClellan Hospital shut down.

Apart from Burdett, the only options for giving birth in the region are hospitals to the west in Albany, Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls – or across the state line in Bennington and Rutland, Vt., or Pittsfield and Great Barrington, Mass.

In an Observer report on the controversy, published in August, Burdett’s supporters said the birth center operates at a deficit in part because the women who give birth there tend to have a low rate of billable medical procedures. That low incidence of medical interventions, they argued, actually is a measure of the center’s success in delivering quality maternal care.

In particular, supporters pointed to Burdett’s low rate of Caesarean-section deliveries. Although a Caesarean can be a life-saving procedure in some cases, it carries a variety of medical risks, and the World Health Organization has estimated that the procedure is not medically necessary in more than 15 percent of births. Across New York state, C-sections now account for nearly 29 percent of births; at Burdett, the rate is less than 9 percent.

In other news from around the region in April:

Stefanik flips, opposing Ukraine aid
Barely two years after expressing strong support for military aid to Ukraine in the face of a Russian invasion, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik did an about-face last month and voted against a $60 billion package of new aid to help the U.S. ally defend its territory.

In voting no, Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, aligned herself with a growing isolationist wing within her party. The new aid to Ukraine passed the House on April 20 with a lopsided, bipartisan majority of 311 votes, after which it won swift approval from the Senate and President Biden. But 112 House members, all Republicans, voted against it, accounting for a narrow majority of the GOP caucus.

Stefanik was the only member of the House GOP leadership to vote against the aid package, and she was the lone opponent among the region’s congressional delegation. Fellow Republican Rep. Marcus Molinaro of Catskill voted for the Ukraine aid, as did area Democratic Reps. Paul Tonko of Amsterdam, Becca Balint of Vermont and Richard Neal of western Massachusetts.
After Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February 2022, Stefanik issued a statement expressing support for Ukrainians “as they endure an unwarranted and unjustified invasion by a gutless, bloodthirsty, authoritarian dictator.

“Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and deranged thug,” she wrote then. “We must stand with democracies under assault. If peace is to prevail, the United States and NATO must respond with the only language Putin understands – strength.”

Ukraine has struggled on the battlefield in recent months as House Republican leaders, under pressure from the party’s right flank, repeatedly delayed voting on a new round of military aid the Biden administration requested in October.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported that in a written statement three days after last month’s vote, Stefanik said she could not support additional aid to Ukraine “while Joe Biden continues his failure to address his crisis at our southern border.”
-- compiled by Fred Daley