In North Dakota’s Oil Patch, bundles of joy are coming in bundles.
At the center of the state’s oil boom in Williston, Mercy Medical Center delivered 882 babies in 2015. That’s up from 804 in 2014, according to Leona Lambert, the hospital’s obstetrics manager.
“It’s trying,” Lambert said. “Every day we’re struggling for beds, but we’ve been able to make it work.”
Of the 25 beds available at Mercy Medical, 10 are dedicated to the obstetrics unit, Lambert said. On some days, up to 15 women will deliver at the hospital.
Lambert said Mercy is one of the only hospitals that delivers babies in the area — once overwhelmed by workers hoping to make their fortune off the surging, but now sagging, oil industry. Women from more than six hours away will drive to Mercy Medical when it comes time to deliver.
“Pre-oil boom, we had three staffers working a given shift. Now, staffing has more than doubled to keep up with all of the deliveries,” Lambert said.
As a point of comparison, Hennepin County Medical Center has 484 staffed beds, 41 in labor, delivery and obstetrics.
Julie Curti is the patient care director for Women and Children Services at HCMC.
“Babies just come in bundles,” Curti said. “What we see in our 41 beds is that we have surges from time to time. Now, we don’t usually fill all the beds, but sometimes we are three-quarters full. I can only imagine what delivering so many babies in a critical access hospital must be like.”
Critical access hospitals serve largely rural populations. Curti said the surge in North Dakota’s birthrate will require a strategy for pediatric care in the future, because in two or three years, these babies will be returning en masse with earaches and sore throats.
Statewide, the birthrate in North Dakota has risen slightly from 12,503 in 2014 to 12,800 in 2015, according to the state’s Division of Vital Records.
Dan Kelly, CEO of McKenzie County Healthcare Systems, located near the epicenter of the oil boom in Watford City, said a new facility is being designed that will support obstetric services in response to the community’s new needs.
“One has only to see the changing demographics in our elementary school, visit our churches on Sunday or even shop in our local establishments and you quickly realize that our community is changing,” Kelly wrote in a statement to the Star Tribune.
“We have an influx of young families who in turn are having babies.”
Zoe Peterson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.