As intermittent rain blew through town yesterday, community members gathered to celebrate a decision by SSM Health administrators to preserve St. Mary’s Hospital’s midwifery program.
On September 30th, SSM, the healthcare system that owns St. Mary’s, announced that it would be ending the hospital’s midwifery program at the end of the year. Amid community pushback, SSM backtracked on the decision on October 7 — instead announcing that the program would continue indefinitely.
Jessica Vaughan, an SSM midwife, says the St. Mary’s midwives negotiated a new deal with the healthcare system on Thursday — an agreement that will allow the program to continue indefinitely.
“We had a good meeting with them on Thursday, and they told us they are going to reinstate the program, it will not be cut. We can tell, with this community, that they’re not going to allow this program to be over,” Vaughan says.
When it initially announced that the midwifery program would end, SSM cited the program’s lack of long-term financial viability. The healthcare system said it would be coordinating with community midwives in the future — a decision that left the four St. Mary’s midwives and their estimated 100-plus patients in limbo.
State Senator Kelda Roys, a Democrat from Madison, says it’s not unusual for hospital-based midwifery programs to face financial issues. Roys, whose three pregnancies were attended by midwives, is the former executive director of NARAL-Pro Choice Wisconsin, a reproductive rights advocacy group.
“I think one of the problems is that they’re not very profitable, and we have a profit-driven healthcare system that really doesn’t put patient care at the center of all the decision-making,” Roys says. “Midwifery care tends to mean lower interventions, less-costly procedures, women don’t have the same higher rates of complications. And midwifery care is best for healthy pregnancies that are low risk.”
Charis Boersma organized Sunday’s event. She says the St. Mary’s midwives played an essential role in delivering her child earlier this year.
Says Boersma: “I had a baby seven months ago, and I went to the midwives at SSM for my care. That was really important to me, that I had that holistic kind of care and that I could still give birth at a hospital and that I would know who was with me when I gave birth. I wouldn’t be left to whoever was on call. Having a first baby during a pandemic, that was really important. I didn’t want to see that go away for anyone.”
All photos by Jonah Chester