Temple University Health System said today it is studying how it could make its Northeastern Hospital more "cost effective," but a nurses' union believes the system is planning to "virtually close" the community hospital and already has scheduled a protest.

Bill Cruice, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), which represents registered nurses at Northeastern, said the hospital's chief executive officer told managers this week that the health system planned major cuts, including the elimination of maternity care and other services. One scenario was that the hospital would be reduced to just an emergency department and utpatient surgery.

The union has scheduled a candlelight vigil in front of the hospital on Allegheny Avenue Monday night to protest the rumored changes.

Rebecca Harmon, a spokeswoman for Temple University Health System, denied that Northeastern's CEO told managers about planned service reductions. She said the system has formed a task force and "embarked on a comprehensive review to make Northeastern a more cost-effective provider." She said Northeastern will "continue to be a portal for health care delivery."

The task force is to make its recommendations in the next few months.

The hospital, with 189 beds, serves the Port Richmond and Kensington areas.

She said the hospital is not closing, but declined to divulge what options are under consideration.

Thirteen Philadelphia hospitals have stopped delivering babies since 1997, leaving only eight, including Northeastern, still in the baby business. More than 1,700 babies were born at Northeastern this year, the union said.

Harmon declined to specifically address the maternity unit's future.

"If they have no intention of closing maternity services . . . they should just come out and say it," Cruice said. Closure of the unit, he said, would leave a "gaping hole" in maternity care east of Broad Street.

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.