Nurse midwives to stay at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison

Administration cancels plan to do away with alternative birth care program, agrees to pursue ‘long-term’ solution to keep it going

By: - October 7, 2021 2:10 pm
newborn child

Jonathan Borba | Unsplash

After an outpouring from patients and others in the women’s health care community, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison announced Thursday it would continue its midwife program for in-hospital births instead of ending it as originally planned.

“We will take the feedback our community has provided as an opportunity to strengthen and evolve the program through input and conversation with our team, our patients and the community,” Kim Sveum, regional communications director for St. Mary’s parent organization, SSM Health, said in a statement delivered Thursday morning. “We are committed to the profession of midwifery and choices for our patients. We hope to have meaningful conversations moving forward on how to continue to best meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

The statement declared that the hospital administration’s “ultimate goal in this decision is to work together with our midwifery team and community women’s health partners to find a long-term, sustainable solution that allows area women reliable access to a full scope of midwifery services and in-hospitals births through SSM Health.”

After meeting Thursday morning with SSM Health administrators who told them of the decision, the four certified nurse midwives who make up the St. Mary’s midwifery program applauded the change of course.

“The SSM Midwifery Program is here to stay, and we are grateful that SSM has taken this opportunity to learn from and include our community and our midwifery group as we continue to offer our program and services,” the midwives team said in a statement.

With the change, the statement said, “women and birthing people/families in Madison and the surrounding communities will continue to have options and choices for comprehensive Women’s Health Care and birth.”

The hospital’s announcement was a complete reversal of the plan to cancel the program at the end of 2021 that hospital officials had disclosed just one week earlier, on Sept. 30, to the midwifery team. The program enables women to give birth in the hospital with the assistance of a certified nurse midwife (CNM) providing their care before, during and after birth, rather than an obstetrician.

A rally planned for Sunday afternoon at the hospital will continue as scheduled, reframed from protesting the program’s cancelation to celebrating its continuation. “The birth community of Madison will continue to stand up for access to reproductive health and midwifery care,” said Margaux Riewe, a rally organizer.

The hospital’s original plan had stunned the midwives team as well as expectant parents with delivery dates in early 2022 — estimated to be 100 or more families. It also sparked outrage in the wider women’s health community in Madison, including among community midwives who attend home births.

“We have learned over the past week that we need to learn more,” the SSM Health statement said. “We will take this opportunity to thoughtfully discuss and determine a path to an improved program that serves our community’s women’s health needs. We apologize for the confusion or anxiety this caused.”

The statement included a direction for patients with questions to call the hospital’s Nurse Navigator line.

A nearly identical statement was emailed to people who had contacted the administration protesting the decision. That message went out over the signatures of two top SSM Health Wisconsin executives, Matt Hanley, interim regional president, and Mark Thompson, medical groups president.

The midwives’ statement embraced “continued collaboration” with the SSM Health administration as well as with obstetrics providers, community midwives, doulas, other midwifery program partners and the program’s patients.

Thanking those who protested the original decision, the midwives’ statement added: “This decision was reversed because of your courage to speak out.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.