When the labor and the delivery unit closed at noon Tuesday at Hutcheson Medical Center, most of its employees left, too.
Out of 37 workers at the Women's Center, "The Place Where Babies Come From," 30 parted ways with Hutcheson while five took full-time jobs and two got part-time jobs elsewhere at the Fort Oglethorpe hospital, Hutcheson spokeswoman Stacy Kaufmann said.
When hospital officials publicly announced the plan on Dec. 18 to suspend all labor and infant delivery services, they said they hated to do it. But officials said Hutcheson, which has more than $60 million in debt, was losing about $2 million a year at the Women's Center.
The Women's Center staff got a fond farewell from Times Free Press readers who made Facebook comments and sent emails about the closure, a move that seemed to hit some readers like a death in the family.
"They treated me like gold when I had my son," Amanda A. Johnson commented. "My great-grandmother, grandma, mom, myself, my son, my niece and nephew were born there."
"This is very sad news to me. I had all three of my children there and the staff was excellent," Connie Wilson commented. "My fondest memory of the Women's Center is that my daughter ... gave birth to her daughter in the same ... room I delivered her in ... at the same time I delivered her!"
Chastity Lee Rhodes commented, "My twin sister and I were born here along with all three of my girls (in the same room might I add). All my nieces and nephew and brothers were born here also. I am almost 10 weeks pregnant with our fourth and am devastated that I can't keep the tradition going with Hutcheson being my delivery hospital."
Hutcheson's Women's Center opened in 1988, though babies had been delivered at the hospital since it opened in 1952.
"I was employed there when the Women's Center opened and I remember how excited everyone was," Gail Human wrote in an email. "It was so beautiful compared to when I had my daughter in the old labor and delivery section of the hospital. When I delivered my daughter, the only person allowed in the delivery room was the spouse, and only if he had taken Lamaze lessons.
"When my grandchildren were born, I was allowed to witness their birth along with the father, in a beautiful, quiet setting with some of the best nurses one could ever ask," Human wrote. "It is a sad day to see the Women's Center close, but it is equally sad to see how the hospital has declined in general. It would be wonderful to see the hospital thrive again."
Registered nurse Melissa L. Meece, healthcare services coordinator for BlueCare Tennessee Clinical Education, said the Women's Center nurses were some of the area's best.
Her aunt worked in the Hutcheson nursery for about 40 years, she wrote.
"The majority of the nurses have been there as long as I can remember -- they are family to each other and to me. Everyone is part of each other's life, like family. Graduations, weddings, bridal and baby showers, funerals ... every major event -- they are there. All the way down to going to watch someone's child play soccer or softball -- it is a family.
"They are the reason I am a nurse -- and specifically NOT a maternity nurse. I have watched how hard they work, how delicate their patients' lives are, how fragile and important every step they take truly is. I have watched them take care of babies for parents who should not be allowed around children and do it without judgment or contempt, but rather a faith and hope that their role in those first few hours/days will at least start that child off with something positive."
"These are some of the best nurses in our area, without question. What I do know is that they are still family and we will always be part of each others' lives."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...