OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Registered nurses at Tri-City Medical Center gathered outside the Oceanside hospital on Friday to demand that women and newborn services remain open, as the Board of Directors reconsiders the recently underutilized department.

This comes as the department has seen a decline in referrals of pregnant patients to Tri-City, prompting the board to re-evaluate the department’s financial viability.

At the rally and board meeting Friday, nurses who work in the department — which is made up of the neonatal intensive care, labor and delivery and postpartum units — voiced their concerns about shuttering these crucial services to hospital management.

“Save our unit, we are important,” said NICU nurse, Marinnee Schompe. “We are not just a part that we can be replaced easily. I feel like we are important enough to maintain us.”

But with decreased deliveries over the last few years, Tri-City Interim CEO Gene Ma told the board that the department has significantly hurt the hospital’s finances.

Ma said the hospital currently sees less than one birth a day, pointing to staffing issues as one of the reasons for that decrease given more competition from private companies and other healthcare centers.

“Unfortunately, the community no longer sees Tri-City as the primary destination in the region for (labor and delivery) services,” Ma said.

One of the biggest hits to the demand of these services was the decision by the San Diego Local Formation Commission to give Palomar Health permission to work within the Tri-City Healthcare Districts boundaries, prompting clinics to shift referrals to the Escondido facility.

“What (started as) a $3.5 million loss annually for multiple years has accelerated, as a result of Palomar’s encroachment on district boundaries,” Ma said. This year, these losses are expected to triple, according to the CEO.

The board is now weighing a couple options: taking no action, cutting back staff, consolidating units, pursuing outside partnerships or suspending services all together.

The last option is what nurses who spoke at the board meeting and the Friday rally outside Tri-City are trying to prevent.

Nurses in the women and newborn services units got emotional during the board meeting when talking about past experiences.

“This tiny precious baby did not have a heartbeat at delivery, but did have the love of mother and father,” said Joanne Sherman, a labor and delivery nurse, during the board meeting. “Can you imagine if this occurred in the craziness of the emergency department?”

No decision has been made yet on the fate of the department, however, hospital officials have said that they are working to make sure that obstetrics care remains open.

“We are dedicated to keeping OB services here this hospital,” said Adela Sanchez, treasurer for the Tri-City Healthcare District.

Ma said the board will come to a resolution soon, after they discuss the situation in their April meeting.

“We cannot have a period of dragging it out, because I personally do feel it is unfair in many ways,” he said. “We hope we can bring an option that is viable for you, and that is our absolute desire.”