On May 7th, PeaceHealth Oregon announced plans to close their Nurse Midwifery Birth Center by the end of summer. The hospital also made public a partnership with a Eugene-based physician’s group to provide Lane County mothers and families with a range of birth plan choices.
KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert follows up on the controversial Birth Center closure plan and speaks with the CEO of Women’s Care about their plans to pick up where PeaceHealth expects to leave off.
Josie Van Scholten’s says PeaceHealth told Women’s Care about the planned Birth Center closure about six weeks before they told their nurse midwives.
“Late March, they approached us and said they were considering closing the Birth Center,” Van Scholten says.
Certified nurse midwives deliver babies in the Birth Center and they have privileges to deliver in hospital. That’s because of a collaborative physician contract between PeaceHealth and Women’s Care.
“It’s to back up midwifery care at the hospital,” says Van Scholten. “So that means that if a patient needs a C-section or has some sort of emergency then we’re there to help.”
Van Scholten says Women’s Care is hurriedly developing a plan to employ nurse midwives including some of those who will soon be losing their jobs with PeaceHealth.
“We have met with midwives at the Birth Center. We have posted positions,” she says. “You know this wasn’t our strategic plan for 2019. We had no plans at the beginning of 2019 to employ midwives. We’re just trying to make sure that this important service remains in our community.”
Van Scholten says Women’s Care is hoping to hire 5 to 6 midwives for starters.
“You know going forward it’s a little bit scary. I feel like if people think that Women’s Care doesn’t value midwifery services that could make it a challenge for us to really get a program started,” Van Scholten says. “And might affect the number that we could afford to hire. We just kind of have to see how this all plays out.”
When the Birth Center closes, Van Scholten is certain all nurse midwife assisted deliveries will have to be in hospital. Midwives and advocates say this limits women’s choices and increases the likelihood of medical interventions during labor and childbirth.
“PeaceHealth is the one making these decisions,” says Van Scholten. “You know, I think they’re looking for efficiencies. You’d have to talk to them about that.”
PeaceHealth has not yet responded to KLCC’s most recent questions. In a released statement, the hospital has said “the birth center model is unsustainable” based on a precipitous drop in deliveries over the last five years.
The current Birth Center was built with community donations on PeaceHealth property 9 years ago. It has two birthing rooms with a home-like feel. The Center provides pre and postpartum care like lactation counseling and well-women checks. In January of this year the Birth Center celebrated the 1000th baby born there. There has been a birth center in the Eugene Springfield area for over 40 years.
A petition to “Save the Birth Center” has garnered over 9,000 signatures. Oregon State Representative Marty Wilde is a self-proclaimed advocate.
“I represent House District 11, (which is parts of Lane and Lynn counties.) Right now, I’m sitting in my office at the capitol. We just got off the floor,” Wilde says. “When I am not legislating, I am the Executive Director of the Lane County Medical Society.”
Wilde and his sister were both born with midwives. As a legislator, he has heard from constituents on the pending Birth Center closure.
“It’s really important to them that we preserve this option because without a birthing center,” Wilde says, “women will face a stark choice between a home birth that may be less safe and a hospital that may feel like it’s less home like and less comfortable. So that’s what they’ve communicated to me and I agree.”
Wilde questions the financial justification for closing the Nurse Midwifery Birth Center.
“They didn’t have enough births from PeaceHealth’s standpoint for it to be financially sustainable,” Wilde says. “I don’t really think this from lack of interest but lack of awareness.”
Wilde says there may not have been adequate marketing for the Birth Center which is a less expensive option that delivering in hospital.
“Because in addition to being a preferred place to deliver and an option many women choose-- it’s also very cost effective,” says Wilde. “So I hope the parties were all working together in good faith and this is an economic decision that we can find an answer for.”
PeaceHealth Oregon’s Director of Marketing Marcy Marshall is on the record in May saying the Birth Center closure plan is “unequivocal.”