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Future of SSM Health’s Midwifery Program still in question

Expectant mothers and local midwives say they’re worried about the future of SSM Health’s midwifery services.
Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2021 at 7:04 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - SSM Health says it will continue offering midwifery services for the time being after previously announcing it would cut the program at the end of the year.

This comes amid backlash and an outpouring of community feedback. Tuesday night, SSM Health officials released a statement saying its midwifery program will continue until “a new sustainable model is in place.”

A number of community members, including midwives and patients, reached out to NBC15 sharing concerns and feelings of uncertainty.

Margaux Riewe says she’s just months away from the birth of her second child.

Insured through Dean Health Plan, Riewe says she’s currently a patient of the midwifery program at SSM Health - St. Mary’s Hospital. She says knowing the program is in jeopardy is a big concern.

“Women who are pregnant around this time have the most to lose. I don’t have the luxury of being able to switch insurance providers,” said Riewe.

SSM Health previously stated that patients who are insured by Dean Health would have the chance to switch to community based nurse midwives in-network but some say there aren’t many options for that available.

FULL STATEMENT FROM SSM HEALTH:

“SSM Health would like to thank our community members and others who have reached out to us regarding changes to our midwifery program. We understand that these changes have caused concern. We assure you we are listening and appreciate your feedback.

Based on that community feedback and our desire to maintain access to in-hospital midwifery care options, we will continue to offer our current services until a new, sustainable model is in place. Our intent is for no disruptions in care.

Though our current midwifery model is not sustainable, SSM Health truly values women’s health and remains committed to offering equitable access to care, including midwifery services. We are in the process of exploring all options for a midwifery model that will continue to allow for in-hospital births at St. Mary’s Hospital.

As we work towards this new model, we look forward to having meaningful conversations with area community-based midwifery providers. We will be reaching out directly to our current patients in the midwifery program and will continue to share updates as we move to a new model that allows women continued access to this valuable service.”

SSM Health

Some within the birthing community say this stance leaves too much room for uncertainty.

”They’re not making a promise to us. To say they’ll offer midwife care until they figure something out...what does that mean?” said Natalie Evans, a Madison mom who says she wants to use a midwife potentially for her next child.

She says eliminating this program would mean less options for her and many others.

“Some communities just don’t trust the medical establishment for whatever reason and I think midwives have been able to reach across that divide and offer supportive relationships,” said Evans.

Others agree and worry this could all cause disruptions to care.

“That can be very scary and jarring after getting to know your midwife. Knowing they know exactly what you want and putting you first and then all of a sudden after the end of the year, you have to go to a new person that may not give you the care you want,” said Janine Dale Gardner, Full Spectrum Doula at Madison Doula Collective.

In addition to dozens of patients, there are four nurse-midwives at SSM Health who would be directly impacted if the program is ultimately cut.

Here’s a statement from one of them:

In response to SSM Health’s statement that they plan to keep the Midwifery Program “until a new, sustainable model is in place”:

“We are happy that SSM Health Admin is listening to the outcry from their true stakeholders: the patients and the community, and that they are realizing that they underestimated the value of comprehensive and individualized midwifery care within a complex medical system. We recognize that this is a time-sensitive matter. Open enrollment for many Madison-based health insurance companies through employer groups has started now, with deadlines as early as October 23rd. Many of our families are now faced with the decision to switch from Dean Health Plan or Medicaid/Badgercare/DHP HMO, which are the only plans that cover full-scope (well woman, prenatal, birth, and postpartum care) midwife services in the SSM/Dean affiliated clinics and at St. Mary’s Hospital. There is not an alternative plan in place at this time, but we are optimistic and excited to work together with the SSM Health administration to come up with a plan that permanently keeps access to full scope midwifery at SSM Health sometime in the next week. This will restore consumer confidence in the organization and reassure our patients and families that they will still have access to clinic and hospital-based midwife care at SSM/Dean. Our patients and families deserve to have this matter resolved in a timely manner so that they can make informed decisions about their healthcare.”

Jessica Vaughan, board certified nurse midwife

A protest is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday outside St. Mary’s Hospital.

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