‘Definitely blindsided’: Thousands of families scrambling after sudden Seattle OB/GYN closure

SEATTLE — A six-doctor private obstetrics and gynecology practice in Seattle suddenly announced its closing. It means up to 16,000 women now need to find a new doctor, including hundreds of pregnant moms.

The practice, Seattle OB/GYN in First Hill, says the closure is driven by a doctor shortage and financial problems, from rising costs of rent and malpractice insurance, while reimbursement rates for women’s health services stay low.

“It’s really heartbreaking that we’re closing,” said Dr. Judy Kimelman, an ob/gyn who has been with the practice for 25 years. “We’ve touched a lot of lives in Seattle.”

The practice has been operating for 73 years and works closely with Swedish to deliver babies.

KIRO 7 spoke with patients on and off camera – and each made it clear the practice is well-loved.

“I took the research really seriously when I picked a doctor. I like to think it’s one of the best practices out there if not the best,” said Seattle-area mom-to-be now in her third trimester due on January 15, Stephanie Giola.

Giola said she got the email last week that Seattle OB/GYN would be closing at the end of the year on December 31.

“Definitely blindsided,” Giola said. “So I was a little panicked… that I’d have to show up to the hospital and be like, ok ER doc, let’s go.”

Dr. Judy Kimelman is with Seattle OB/GYN.

“We’ve shed a lot of tears, and our patients have shed a lot of tears. It’s really hard to see our doors closing,” Kimelman said.

She said the office had to notify all their patients from the last three years – totaling 16,000. It also includes about 350 pregnant moms who are set to give birth over the next six months.

Kimelman said one big reason for the closure is a shortage of OB/GYN doctors, not just in Washington but nationwide.

“We’ve been trying to recruit and it’s been very hard,” Kimelman said. “We knew there were going to be physician shortages across the country but it’s come up so much faster because of the pandemic,” she said.

Doctors at the practice said another huge problem is how little ob/gyns actually earn for delivering a baby. That’s because of low reimbursements from insurance, plus rising costs like high rent and the steep price of required malpractice insurance.

“We were just barely coming out financially,” Kimelman said.

Dr. Luba Foltz, also with the now-closing practice, shared a financial breakdown.

She said in an email that for a vaginal delivery – including labor, any tear repairs or infection treatment, post-delivery checkups, and one or two postpartum office visits – it all gets wrapped up into one fee.

A doctor’s take-home at Seattle OB/GYN is about $360 for all that.

“When I tell my patients, who pay so much money for their health insurance and think that it actually values their doctor, they are shocked,” Foltz said.

“My partners have been working incredibly hard trying to take care of all these patients and cover the overhead with a very thin margin. So it didn’t look sustainable to keep that going,” Kimelman said.

It all leads to a big impact on families and providers.

“The practices around here that are really large organizations are totally backed up with calls and trying to get people scheduled,” said women’s health practitioner with Seattle OB/GYN, Rebecca Feldman. “It feels pretty devastating to lose this really special group of people.”

Feldman is one of 25 staff members at the practice who will be looking for new jobs.

The closure also means moms in the area have fewer options for care – especially the care that’s more customizable at a smaller private practice.

“It’s terrible. How can you compete, recruit the best doctors, have a great practice if the money is not there? And that seems broken,” Giola said.

Kimelman said it’s up to Congress to change reimbursement rates for insurance.

As for all the families in limbo now, Seattle OB/GYN is working to advocate for patients and help them switch providers, prioritizing the pregnant moms.

In June, hundreds of pregnant women had to find new doctors after a well-loved OB/GYN and midwife practice in Tacoma suddenly closed its doors.