July 24, 1998

Project to build birthing centers under way

Project to build birthing centers under way

University Community Health Services Inc. (UCHS) has been awarded a five-year, $5.2 million grant to develop several birthing centers across Tennessee to benefit low-income women and children.

The first of the free-standing centers will be located in the Vine Hill community area of Nashville, where the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, under the UCHS structure, already operates a low-income family health clinic. It is expected to open next summer.

An additional two birthing centers will be established in other areas of the state over the next five years.

The multi-million dollar grant was awarded by the Battle Creek, Mich.-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop a birthing-center concept that is cost-effective with proven positive outcomes for the health and well-being of women and children.

"The concept of birthing centers is that birth is, for the most part, a healthy process," said Roxane Spitzer, Ph.D., chief operating officer of the VMG Network and executive director of UCHS. "For low-risk pregnancies, a hospital delivery isn¹t necessary. These centers will provide access to safe, affordable, home-like delivery for non-complicated pregnancies."

The mission of the UCHS birthing centers is to provide women¹s health, prenatal care and healthy births with related follow-up examinations for populations at risk.

Birthing centers are proven concepts in other parts of the country. With their home-like atmosphere and location in low-income areas, they encourage women who would not ordinarily seek pre-natal care to do so. For low-risk pregnancies, they offer a safe, less-costly alternative to hospital delivery.

According to the National Association of Childbearing Centers, the benefits of managing low-risk pregnancies at birthing centers include:

o Cesarean section rates for women receiving care in birthing centers averages 4.4 percent, compared with a C-section rate nationally of 25 percent for low-risk, in-hospital deliveries.

o Nationally, birthing centers have displayed charges for care for normal births that average up to 50 percent less than regular hospital stays and 30 percent less than short stays.

o More than half of birthing centers nationwide include routine lab exams, childbirth education, home visits, extra office visits and initial newborn examinations in their charges.

o 98.8 percent of women using birthing centers would recommend the experience to friends and/or return to the center for a subsequent birth.

"The birthing center is a concept that works," Spitzer said. "It gives women with low-risk pregnancies an alternative to traditional delivery systems."

Currently, Spitzer and other UCHS officials are scouting locations in the Vine Hill area for the first birthing center, establishing TennCare contracts and transfer agreements, working through the needed state and federal requirements and recruiting a full-time nurse midwife as well as a project manager.

Plans call for the centers to be strategically located for maximum accessibility. They will be managed by UCHS and staffed by certified nurse-midwives, appropriately supported by obstetric and pediatric physicians. Staffing needs for the centers will depend on patient volume. Currently, officials are projecting 200 deliveries per year.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 to Œhelp people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations.¹ The foundation targets its grants toward specific focal points or areas, including health, food systems and rural development, youth and education, philanthropy and volunteerism.