As Utah changes, this Salt Lake County hospital has decided to close its maternity ward

Utah — which once led the country with its high fertility rate — has seen its births decline.

Nearly 150 years after the Catholic Holy Cross Hospital opened in the Latter-day Saint stronghold of Salt Lake City, the medical center that stands on its site today has decided to stop delivering babies.

Salt Lake Regional Medical Center closed its maternity ward Thursday, it said in a statement, as Utah’s fertility rate — once No. 1 in the nation — has continued to drop.

“Patient demand for the maternal unit has remained low as births have declined over the last few years in the Salt Lake City area,” the hospital said, explaining the decision. The for-profit center was acquired by Steward Health in 2017.

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Salt Lake Regional sees less than 2% of the babies delivered in the region annually, the statement said, and it will “continually evaluate community needs and make adjustments as necessary.”

The medical center will still provide women’s health services, including urogynecology, breast surgery, advanced robotic gynecological procedures, 3D mammography, and more, it said.

A year ago, Salt Lake Regional urged women to consider having their baby at its “beautifully remodeled maternity unit,” in a sponsored article posted on KSL.com.

It described eight labor and delivery rooms, plus 15 private postpartum suites — each with natural lighting, warm blankets and a foldout bed “for your significant other.” An in-house chef, it added, would offer a “gourmet candlelight celebration meal for two” after a baby’s arrival.

“Of course, the real selling point might just be the new slushy machine by the nurses’ station,” it quipped.

The hospital also touted “personalized care” from nurses who love their jobs and have been there for decades.

The closure of the maternity ward is “a shame for the community,” given “the different diverse populations that we serve,” said one Salt Lake Regional maternity nurse. “I have so many friends that have been born here.”

The hospital would deliver around 300 babies a month roughly two decades ago, the nurse said, but monthly births now have dropped as low as 25, and management has told the staff that the ward was “not profitable enough, over the last few years.”

[Read more: Utahns are having fewer kids. Why that may be a problem and what we should do about it.]

The Salt Lake Tribune agreed not to identify the nurse, who hopes to transfer to another Steward location. The hospital did not respond to a question about whether any employees will be laid off.

The fertility rate in Utah has decreased over the last decade, along with every other U.S. state, according to a research brief published in August by the Kem C. Gardener Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Utah has fallen from having the highest fertility rate in the country in 2010 to the fourth highest in 2020.

Holy Cross Hospital opened in 1875 as one of the first hospitals in the Salt Lake Valley. It relocated to the site at 1050 E. South Temple in 1882, according to the nonprofit Ensign Peak Foundation. The original hospital was demolished, but its chapel — built between 1901 and 1904 — has been preserved, and is open every day for prayer and meditation.

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The Sisters of the Holy Cross sold the hospital to for-profit, secular Health Trust Inc. in 1994, and it has changed ownership multiple times since then.

A ward at Holy Cross Hospital on Dec. 23, 1908.

Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.