Oregon discovers that homebirth midwives are a liability

There’s nothing like a lawsuit to focus a state’s attention.

That may be the reason behind a sudden flurry of activity at the Oregon Health Licensing Authority (OHLA). I wrote about the $50 million lawsuit, seeking to hold both midwives and regulators responsible for the severe brain injury sustained by baby Abel Andrews at birth.

According to the Bend Bulletin

… Kristine and Greg Andrews — on behalf of their son — are suing the state of Oregon, Motherwise Community Birth Center, midwife Nicole Tucker, CPM and midwife Christyn King, CPM for the medical problems they say the baby faces as a result of oxygen starvation during birth.

Among other allegations:

The Andrewses allege the state was negligent for several reasons, most notably because of the blood pressure level it lists as a risk factor. The lawsuit also alleges the state didn’t require a mandatory disclosure form … and that it didn’t implement “evidence based standards for the protection of Oregon citizens.”

Suddenly, after years of lackadaisical oversight of homebirth midwives, OHLA is taking a closer look into their practices … and, importantly, reporting their findings to the general public. It is a rather ugly picture.

Based on Department of Justice advice, the Oregon Health Licensing Agency (OHLA) is providing the following information regarding complaints against licensed direct entry midwives (LDMs) (as of June 8, 2012):

Number of open investigations: 40
Number of midwives under investigation: 22
Percentage of the licensing base represented in those investigations: 28 percent
Complaints that have come from mandatory reporters: 9 from five complainants
Complaints that have come from clients: 13 from eight complainants
Complaints from family members of clients: 1
Complaints originating from hospitals or hospital-based health care professionals, whether they are mandatory reporters or not: 10
Complaints originating from inter-agency referral: 5
Complaints originated by OHLA: 2
Complaints against unlicensed midwives: 3

More than a quarter of Oregon homebirth midwives are facing outstanding complaints! Contrary to the claims of Board Chairwoman Melissa Cheyney, a large proportion of the complaints have been filed by patients. Moreover, almost all the complaints were filed against licensed midwives, midwives under the direct regulatory authority of OHLA and the Board of Direct Entry Midwifery.

The state seems to be expressing concern on other fronts as well. After unconscionably allowing repeated extensions to regulations mandating specific informed consent disclosures by homebirth midwives, the Attorney General’s office appears to have developed a deep interest in the content of homebirth midwifery consent forms. A Board hearing set to approve the guidelines set forth in a Board brochure was abruptly cancelled without explanation, apparently to give the Attorney General’s office time to determine exactly how much liability the state was going to incur.

It appears that after finally recognizing that the state can be held accountable for its poor to non-existent supervision of homebirth midwives, the Attorney General wants to make sure that its regulations can be defended in court.

Homebirth is no longer a win-win for Oregon state politicians. They’ve discovered there are consequences to turning a blind eye to the deadly incompetence of homebirth midwives in exchange for the political support of homebirth advocates. That can only be a good thing for Oregon mothers and babies.

Here’s hoping that the Oregon Attorney General’s Office subpoenas the MANA death rates that Board Chairwoman Melissa Cheyney refused to hand over. Those statistics are likely to provide a clearer picture of the gross incompetence and deadly practices of Oregon’s homebirth midwives.

Here’s hoping that the state of Oregon will remove Melissa Cheyney from her position of authority, where she has tirelessly promoted the interests of her colleagues at the expense of a horrifying number of preventable neonatal deaths.

Here’s hoping that the state of Oregon will reverse its inexcusable policy of allowing anyone who desires to call herself a midwife, without any education, any training, or any oversight.

Bravo to Kristine and Greg Andrews, who have taken their pain over the preventable disabilities of their beloved son Abel, and turned it into legal action that has already captured the attention of Oregon state officials and is sure to benefit countless babies and mothers in Oregon.