QUINCY — A proposal by Quincy Medical Center to restore its obstetric services after a 14-year hiatus drew community backing Wednesday, despite opposition from competing hospitals that already deliver babies for residents of the city and neighboring towns.
During a state Department of Public Health hearing, about 20 people voiced support for the plan by the Quincy hospital, purchased last year by for-profit Steward Health Care System. The hearing was triggered by a request from 10 taxpayers representing Tufts Medical Center of Boston, which serves many Asian immigrants and others from the Quincy area.
“Whenever I interact with someone from the community, they say, ‘Bring maternity back to the hospital,’ ” said Daniel Knell, the new president of Quincy Medical Center.
He said about 2,000 babies are born each year to residents of Quincy and nearby communities — all of whose mothers now have to drive to hospitals in Boston or on the South Shore.
A crowd of more than 100 residents, doctors, nurses, hospital employees, and community leaders packed into a small conference room in the hilltop hospital to echo Knell’s appeal — often in impassioned tones — before Bernard Plovnick, director of the Health Department’s determination of need program, who presided at the hearing.
Quincy resident Jennifer Logue said she, her parents, her four brothers and sisters, and two of her three children were born at the Quincy hospital before it suspended obstetric services in 1998 because of financial strains.
Her youngest daughter was born at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth after the Quincy hospital stopped delivering babies, she said.
“Being pregnant and big as a house is uncomfortable enough,” Logue said. “When my water broke in the middle of the night, the drive to South Shore was not fun.”
Dr. Nicolas Saliba, a Quincy obstetrician who used to deliver babies at the Quincy hospital and now delivers them at South Shore, said, “A community hospital without maternity services is like a car with a flat tire. It can move, but it can’t go very far and it can’t go fast enough.”
Representatives of Tufts Medical Center and South Shore Hospital delivered written feedback to the Health Department, but neither spoke at the hearing.
“I don’t think it’s easy for [other] hospitals to step up in front of the community and speak against a community hospital,” Plovnick told reporters afterward.
In its written testimony, Tufts Medical Center, a teaching affiliate of Tufts Medical School, wrote that “data indicate this market has an extraordinarily high supply of obstetrical beds, coupled with a diminishing demand for those services.”
“The residents of Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth, and Hull are uniquely fortunate to live in an area where many world-class hospitals and health care options are located within a short distance of home.”
Tufts said there are eight hospitals with 322 licensed obstetrical beds within 10 miles of Quincy Medical Center, including low-cost providers such as Tufts and Boston Medical Center.
South Shore Hospital spokeswoman Sarah Darcy issued a statement saying it is “closely following” the Health Department’s determination of need process.
“We are reviewing the application by Quincy Medical Center and the testimony provided at today’s public hearing,” the statement said, “and considering whether to provide additional perspective to this process — which was established to guide regional health service planning based on quantifiable community need.”
Knell, president of the Quincy hospital, said Steward plans to invest up to $10 million in a new maternity ward — part of $30 million in renovations it is making — and expects to provide obstetric services at a lower cost than most rival hospitals.
Plovnick said residents have until Oct. 29 to submit comments on Quincy Medical Center’s proposal.
Then his staff will analyze the proposal against its main criteria — meeting the health care requirements of the area without unnecessary duplication of services — and make a recommendation to the state Public Health Council in December or early January.
The council is expected to vote Jan. 9 on whether to approve a determination of need request to permit Quincy Medical Center to bring back its maternity services.