Daily Planet Staff
Midwives deliver babies in most countries around the globe, but they are just beginning to gain a toehold in the United States.
At Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center, which boasts responsibility for the birth of more babies than at any other hospital in the East Bay, midwives have been available to low-risk mothers-to-be for a number of years.
But the service is at risk, say the midwives who went to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to ask for support.
The medical center wants midwives to start paying for their own malpractice insurance. The hospital has paid these fees – $68 per birth – in the past. “If we lose our malpractice insurance, we won’t be able to practice (at Alta Bates) any more,” said midwife Madeline Todel, noting that midwives can spend the time with the mothers that busy physicians are unable to do. The council unanimously approved a resolution calling on Sutter Health/Alta Bates Medical Center/Summit Medical Center to negotiate a contract with the midwives that includes malpractice insurance.
Alta Bates spokesperson Carolyn Kemp said the medical center values the midwives, but is looking at ways to reduce expenses.
“We’re conscious of every penny we spend at the hospital,” Kemp said.
The hospital pays malpractice insurance only for people who are regular employees, she explained. Midwives, like most of the physicians, work on a contract basis. Physicians pay their own malpractice insurance and midwives are being asked to do the same.
“Their patients love them,” Kemp added. “We respect them.”
Berkeley’s Public Health Director, Dr. Poki Namkung, supports midwifery. When midwives are available, a woman can chose the kind of birth experience she desires, she said.
“Some people see pregnancy as a medical condition,” Namkung said. “Others see it as a stage in life.”
Those who look at their pregnancy on the medical model may prefer a doctor, others may prefer a midwife.
The Community Health Commission brought the question to the council’s attention. In a background document, the commission cites a promise made by Lawrence Fox, who chairs the hospital board of directors. In a March 2 letter, he wrote: “none of the reproductive services Alta Bates Medical Center offers...will be altered.”
The commission contends cutting off the midwives’ malpractice insurance payments is a result of the merger of Alta Bates and Summit.
But Kemp says the cutoff was in the pipeline before the merger.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with the merger,” she said.