The graph above shows the number of babies delivered each year at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Notice the steep downward trajectory, from 15,800 in 2008 to a projected 10,700 in 2013. That's a 32-percent drop or, in layman's terms, a shit-load fewer babies.
I noticed this almost a month ago, back when the Dallas County Commissioners Court was preparing for a June 19 hearing on Parkland's budget, but I sat on it while I tried to get figures from other local hospitals to put things in perspective. I never heard back but will forge on nevertheless.
Parkland spokeswoman April Foran said the economy has caused families to hold off on procreation. "A lot of our previous patients, they tell us their husbands work in construction" but have been able to find jobs given the economy. No job means no money, and raising a kid is quite expensive. Also, fewer teens are getting pregnant.
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That's true as far as it goes. The U.S. birth rate has slowed dramatically since the recession began. But crunching the numbers a bit shows that Parkland's births have dropped more than twice as fast. Per a Pew study from last year, the number of births nationwide dropped by 5.6 percent between 2008 and 2010. During the same period, Parkland experienced a 14.2-percent drop.
It's clear that the economy doesn't explain all of that, so what's going on? Are patients being scared away by the prospect of dirty specula? Are more women deciding that other hospitals (e.g. Presbyterian, where my wife will deliver in October) are more comfortable? My guess is yes to both questions, but it's hard to know.
Whatever the reason, Foran said the decline is not having a major impact on Parkland's operations.
"It's still business as usual," she said. "We're still predicting 12,000 (deliveries in 2012). That's still more than any other hospital in town."