A group of local women concerned about reductions in the midwifery program offered at plans to rally outside the hospital Tuesday and then address the medical center’s board of commissioners.
The group, which has started a Facebook page “Support Midwifery at Evergreen Hospital” and is gathering signatures on a petition, is urging the hospital itself to take on the midwifery program instead of the private clinic that runs it.
The women say the reduction from five to two midwives by the private Center for Women’s Health at Evergreen has gutted what had been one of the finest midwife programs in the region.
Since the two remaining midwives will share on-call duties with the clinic’s five obstetricians, the center will not be able to guarantee 24-hour midwife services. Expecting mothers thus will not be assured that a midwife will be present when they give birth, the group’s supporters say.
Laura Latta of Kirkland, whose daughter was delivered by a midwife at Evergreen less than a year ago, said the hospital has offered an optimal situation with the center’s midwifery program, establishing a reputation as the best place to give birth on the Eastside.
“This was a really unique situation,” she said. “This was the middle ground between a home birth and a hospital birth. People really value Evergreen as a community resource and we don’t want that to go away.”
Owners of the Center for Women’s Health say the reduction in the midwife staff is due to ecomomic reasons and occurred after the practice's books were examined as a result of an alleged embezzlement scheme by a former clinic administrator.
The former employee allegedly used business credit cards for personal expenses in 2009 and 2010, totalling some $450,000. Kirkland Police arrested her in August and her case is now being reviewed by the King County Prosecutor’s Office, according to spokesman Dan Donohoe.
Karen Wells, a physician and one of the center's owners, said that when the practice examined its books, it discovered coincidentally that the midwifery program was losing money.
The embezzlement case, she said "just brought that to light. We had been subsidizing the midwifery program," Wells said.
The practice restructured the pay of the midwives to a salary and bonus system, and as a result, three of the midwives left the practice.
"For all of our best efforts, we could not pull it off ourselves," Wells said. "We did not fire any midwives. We loved them. Their service was fabulous. (But) if we want a midwifery program here, the hospital has got to do it."
For its part, Evergreen says it regrets the reduction in the center's program and is studying the option of hiring its own midwives, but that the process will take time.
“Our commitment is to work with our obstetricians, our staff, to determine what solution we can find together,” said Kay Taylor, Evergreen’s vice president for communications. “The model available in the past was part of a private practice. They did a wonderful job, and we were sorry when they reduced the practice.”
Taylor emphasized that it was not the hospital reducing the midwifery program, but rather the Center for Women’s Health. She said about 4,500 babies are born at Evergreen each year, including about 280 through the center's midwifery program.
“We supported that and will do everything possible to maintain our longterm commitment to midwifery,” Taylor said. “This all happened very quickly. Our team is saying, ‘OK, let’s talk about how we can work together and find a solution for the future.”
Using a midwife instead of a physician when giving birth is a viable and affordable option for many women, Latta explained. It is an especially valuable option for women who hope to avoid having a Cesarean section, say midwifery proponents, since studies show midwives opt for C-sections less often than physicians.
Latta said that is one reason the program at Evergreen has been so valued--if the midwife could not see the birth through, the hospital’s state-of-the-art facilities were available for a C-section as a last resort.
She’s not sure she will use Evergreen again if and when she decides to have another child.
“If Evergreen is not responsive to this need, I don’t know what I’ll do in the future,” she said, adding that she does not view the hospital as “the bad guy.”
The rally and appeal to the hospital board is designed to let the board and hospital administraton know of the community’s concerns, and the group does not expect the board to take immediate action.
“We want the hospital and the board to know that this is important to the community,” she said.
The group’s Facebook page had 619 “likes” and the petition had 517 signatures by Monday afternoon.
Several dozen women are expected to rally peacefully at 4 p.m. outside the hospital’s Family Maternity Center (blue doors) and speak before the board at about 6:30 p.m.