Midwife Centers In Montgomery Prepare to Close

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pregnant women in Montgomery County who want an alternative to traditional hospital deliveries soon will have fewer options because of the imminent closure of two local midwife services.

Apparently for similar financial reasons, stemming from the rising cost of malpractice insurance or lower reimbursement rates, the Takoma Women's Health Center in Takoma Park and the birthing program at the Maternity Center in Bethesda will be closing within the next two months. Both have long histories in the community.

According to Mary Beth Hastings, with the Takoma Park Birthing Circle information network, the women's center began informing patients of its April closure this month. They were told the decision was made by the physicians group that backs up the midwives, whose patients deliver at Sibley Memorial Hospital. An administrator at OB-Gyn Physicians of Washington Chartered would not comment yesterday or confirm the reported mid-April closing date.

"We've done lots of venting," Hastings said yesterday.

At the Maternity Center, where nearly 300 women had their babies last year, director and founder Janet Lobatz said the financial trends as well as patients' shifting preferences left her little choice but to end the birthing program after a quarter-century.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of patients have opted to have the center's midwives assist them at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, rather than at the stand-alone Bethesda facility. The tipping point came late in the fall, when more patients delivered in the hospital than in the center's four birthing rooms.

"It's very traumatic," said Lobatz, who said she hopes to maintain the center's well-woman and gynecological care. Its midwives will continue to have privileges at Shady Grove, one of the few hospitals in the Washington area to permit a physician-based midwife service.

The Maternity Center will end its birthing program May 31, Lobatz said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company