CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The leader of a local birth center is headed to the statehouse in Columbia Tuesday to fight for a new bill regulating birth centers.
"Three years ago, DHEC decided to reinterpret the law regarding our physician support and said we were not compliant because our physician did not say he would physically come to the birth center in an emergency," Lesley Rathbun, owner and director of Charleston Birth Place, said. "Which in an emergency, that's not what you want. You want the physician to meet you at the hospital."
According to DHEC officials, the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control sent a "memorandum to birth center operators on Sept. 6, 2013, and several months later, cited each of the licensed birthing centers for not having documentation that ensures a physician is available to provide medical assistance at the birthing center at all times it is serving the public."
Charleston Birth Place has made efforts to change the law since. The center has been working alongside Senators Larry Grooms, Paul Campbell and Marlon Kimpson, who introduced a bill earlier this year to give birth centers more options under their physician agreements. Under the proposed bill, doctors could also take phone consultations, rather than having to actually show up at the birth center, when a hospital transfer is needed.
Rathbun said a phone call could save previous time if it's a medical emergency.
While legislation is in the works, the five licensed birth centers in S.C. have been operating under a proviso, or temporary law, indeed allowing on-call physicians to take phone consultations. That proviso, which has been renewed since 2014, is set to expire in June, making the bill necessary for the birth center to continue to operate the way it is.
"I obviously want to have my baby here because I had my first here," local mother April Ramirez said. "What I really wanted for my birth experience was a quiet and calm and peaceful setting. It'd really sadden me if me and other moms wouldn't be able to make that decision for ourselves."
The center provides midwifery services but doesn't perform Caesarean sections or handle high risk pregnancies. Rathbun said another change proposed in the bill would require all birth centers in the state to be certified by national birth center standards. According the bill, birth centers would have up to a year to be accredited.
"It's a quality measure," Rathbun said, "and this will assure the consumer, the lawmakers, the insurance companies, the physicians, the hospitals, that all birth centers in S.C. are performing at the same quality level. Pregnant women have enough things to worry about throughout their pregnancy. So worrying about whether they are going to have their choice of the person and place they're going to have their baby, is something that's unnecessary."
The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. in Columbia. A full committee hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
A copy of the Senate bill can be found here: http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess121_2015-2016/bills/1143.htm