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Midwife service at St. Mary's Hospital to end in December
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Midwife service at St. Mary's Hospital to end in December

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Emily Beaman holding female pelvis model

Emily Beaman, at the time a UW Health certified nurse midwife and Centering Pregnancy leader, holds a model of a female pelvis as she talks about various forms of birth control. Beaman later helped start the certified nurse midwife program at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital, which is expected to end in December.

The midwife program at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, which started in 2018, will end in December, according to SSM Health officials, who said the service was not financially viable.

Prepared to give birth at any moment, a first-time family in New Jersey is having to adjust the birth plan regularly because of uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

“Despite high patient satisfaction, positive outcomes and substantial investment in the program, we are unable to sustain the program further,” Matt Hanley, SSM Health’s interim regional president, and Dr. Mark Thompson, president of medical groups, said in an email Friday.

In a statement Monday, SSM Health spokesperson Lisa Adams said “many women who choose midwifery care choose to deliver their babies with community-based midwives. Because of these trends we are not seeing the number of births needed to sustain the current model of employing midwives within the SSM Health Women’s and Newborn’s program.”

SSM Health is looking at ways to allow its patients to use community-based midwives, the statement said.

Certified nurse midwives have overseen 364 deliveries at St. Mary’s since the program started in June 2018, including 139 last year and 98 so far this year, said Jessica Vaughan, one of four midwives at SSM Health Dean Medical Group. The hospital has about 2,100 births a year.

UW Health nurse midwives have long been available at Madison’s other birthing hospital, UnityPoint Health-Meriter, where spokesperson Nicole Aimone said about 10% of deliveries are overseen by midwives. Another group, The Madison Midwives, also works at Meriter.

When Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin said in 2016 it would start using Meriter instead of St. Mary’s for deliveries in 2018, one reason was the desire among members for deliveries overseen by midwives, a Group Health spokesperson said at the time.

Midwives delivered babies at the Madison Birth Center in Middleton from 2003 to 2013 before it closed. Its owner said the center couldn’t get the HMOs that dominate the Madison-area health insurance market to cover its services.

Losing the midwife option at St. Mary’s on Dec. 31 “is a really devastating loss for our community,” said Allison Lynch, of Madison, whose son’s birth in 2019 at St. Mary’s was overseen by a certified nurse midwife.

The birth of her first child, a daughter in 2017, ended up an unplanned cesarean section, with a doctor abruptly putting Lynch under general anesthesia and her husband not allowed to be present, she said. After the traumatic experience, she opted for the nurse midwife service and enjoyed longer prenatal appointments and the holistic approach, she said.

“They really put me at ease and got to know me as a person,” said Lynch, who was able to have a vaginal delivery in 2019, despite the previous C-section. “It was a really beautiful experience.”

Nurse midwives at St. Mary’s/Dean and other hospitals provide prenatal care and support during deliveries, which can include massage and other hands-on therapies as needed, though pain medication and epidurals are available if desired. If complications occur, doctors such as obstetrician-gynecologists can be called in.

“We focus a lot on education and shared decision-making,” Vaughan said.

The Dean nurse midwives also have been providing well woman care, including annual exams, primary care and mental health care, said Emily Beaman, a certified nurse midwife who helped start the St. Mary’s practice. “We focus not only on the physical but also the psychological and psycho-social aspects of health,” she said.

While some women want home births by community-based midwives, many prefer the hospital option because medical technology is immediately available if needed, Vaughan and Beaman said.

Even though SSM Health is ending its employed midwife program, it “has avenues” for community certified nurse midwives to care for SSM Health patients and Dean Health Plan members, Adams said in the statement.

“We plan to reach out to have purposeful conversations with these providers in our community to strengthen these relationships and explore how we successfully transition to community-based midwifery care,” the statement said.


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