Naked City

Responding to Seton Cuts

Seton Healthcare Network's move to slash 275 positions and cut a variety of services has prompted the formation of a task force to try to reinstate one of the programs eliminated last week. The Austin Breastfeeding Task Force organized this week as part of an educational and lobbying effort to get lactation services back into Seton-run hospitals. The task force is made up of recently laid off lactation consultants at Brackenridge and Seton facilities, as well as representatives from other community groups, such as Heart of Texas Lactation Consultants; Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin; and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. "We are not a group of angry lactation consultants," said Dana Michaud, who served as a Brackenridge breast-feeding educator until notified of her layoff last Thursday. "What we'd like to do is open a dialogue with Seton to see how we can work together to continue providing these services."

A long-term goal of the task force is to establish comprehensive breast-feeding support services at all Austin hospitals, regardless of budget constraints, Michaud said. Seton's own financial shortfall is in the neighborhood of $60 million. To cope with that hardship, the health care network is closing its Lakeway clinic, discontinuing its Good Health magazine, and eliminating several heart programs, in addition to breast-feeding services. The 275 jobs eliminated involved about 100 actual layoffs; 161 positions were vacant and 12 employees quit voluntarily, according to Seton.

Members of the newly formed task force point out that the overall health care benefits of Seton's lactation services outweigh any funding that might be saved from discontinuing the program. They point to statistics showing that breast-fed babies are healthier babies, which is particularly important when considering that Brackenridge's patient mix among new mothers is largely made up of low-income women. And while breast-feeding is a natural process, the process itself doesn't always come naturally for women. "The idea that this [cut] wouldn't affect patient care is an incorrect notion," said Gretchen Flatau, executive director of Mothers' Milk Bank. "What we'd like them to realize is that this is not a good budgetary decision when you consider this in terms of community health care issues."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Seton, Seton Healthcare Network, Brackenridge, Dana Michaud, Gretchen Flatau, Heart of Texas Lactation Consultants, Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies

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