Midwives Barred From California Hospital

Amie Newman

Midwives in California are fighting for their right to be reinstated at a hospital where administrators have so far provided no proof for their abrupt dismissal, saying only it was for "patient safety."

Back in February, without evidence or reasonable cause, hospital administrators at St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo, California made the decision to ban Certified Nurse Midwives from continuing to facilitate births at the center.

Midwives say they were told by hospital heads that they would no longer be allowed to deliver – or even assist in – births at the hospital.

According to the Ventura County Star, midwives are still able to practice at St. John’s sister hospital – St. John’s Regional Medical Center – in Oxnard, 11 miles away, because the hospital has a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) in case of emergencies.

Photo courtesy of Birth Action CoalitionPhoto courtesy of Birth Action Coalition

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Clearly, some very serious safety issues must have arisen at the Pleasant Valley Hospital in order for the hospital to take such drastic measures.

Only, that’s not the case. While hospital administrators say the reason for the ban is rooted in concern for the safety of their patients, they haven’t – as of this writing – provided any actual evidence to back up the statement.

According to the article,

The two midwives who deliver at least 60 babies a year at the Camarillo hospital said they don’t understand the reasoning because they rarely have complications.

“Midwives only see and deliver normal and healthy patients,” said Lynn Olson, who commutes to The Woman’s Place for Health in Camarillo from Agoura Hills. “In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been working here I believe I’ve had one NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) patient.”

Midwives at the hospital and those who oppose the decision are asking key questions about why, if administrators are concerned about patient safety, they aren’t concerned about the fact that doctors are the providers who deal with high-risk pregnancy and births. If the hospital does not have a NICU, why would it be the midwives, those who deal with low-risk, healthy pregnancies, who place womens’ and newborns’ health in jeopardy?

There is no answer. Instead there is only the fear and worry from doctors, including Dr. Stephen Carter, an ob-gyn, involved with both hospitals:

There were “too many situations where the nursing staff and the pediatric staff got sucked into bad situations they weren’t comfortable with,” he said.

Carter said doctors worry most about midwives who specialize in home births and rely on hospitals for backup when complications arise.

This reasoning does not sit well with midwives in California and around the country. On the American College of Nurse Midwives blog, Midwife Connection, Candace Curlee, a CNM herself, writes:

One would assume this was related to bad outcomes; however, no peer review on the midwives’ quality of care occurred prior to the decision. In fact, the letter notifying staff midwives, three days prior to their effective dismissal, said that the loss of hospital privileges was not a reflection upon the care provided. The letter also stated that there was no allowance for a hearing or review.

Until the midwives are reinstated, the Birth Action Coalition will gather in front of St. John’s Regional Medical Center to protest the action. On the organization’s Facebook page, the coalition says it will continue to protest:

“… until they either: reinstate the midwives at Pleasant Valley; show records of birth outcomes for CNMs and obstetricians which support their claim that it is safer for “low risk” birthing women and babies to labor in Oxnard; or retract their claim that the midwifery ban is due to patient safety.”

It is curious, as we sit with the most recent report from Amnesty, International, which calls our maternal health statistics in this country a crisis, nothing less than a human rights violation, why hospital administrators are taking action to actually curb women’s access to safe childbirth care?

In fact, expanded access to skilled practitioners like Certified Nurse Midwives, is precisely what we need to focus on in order to ensure that women with healthy pregnancies are not subject to unnecessary interventions – interventions that can lead to severe complications or maternal death in some instances.

For more information, visit Birth Action Coalition’s Facebook page and read Candace Curlee’s post on Midwife Connection.

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