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Beverly Hospital shelves plan to close natural birthing center

Facility's future still in question, trustees warn

By Kay Lazar
Globe Staff / November 19, 2008
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As a phalanx of sign-carrying mothers rallied outside, their babies bundled against the earlymorning cold, Beverly Hospital trustees yesterday backed down from a plan to cease deliveries at the hospital's natural birthing center, one of only two such facilities in the state.

In a four-sentence statement from Northeast Health System, which owns Beverly Hospital, officials noted that the intense grass-roots campaign to save the North Shore Birth Center had "not gone unnoticed."

But the statement also made it clear that the center's future is still very much in question.

"The Board of Trustees is diligently weighing the impact that the closure of the Birth Center would have on the community," the statement read. "The board intends to leave the Birth Center services unchanged while it continues to examine and discuss this important issue." Officials declined to elaborate.

Last week, the hospital released a statement that said the birth center's future was being scrutinized because the facility was "experiencing a significant rise in the cost of malpractice insurance premiums." That prompted a barrage of letters, fliers, pickets, and an Internet campaign to save the center. Organizers say they are very much continuing the fight.

"It sounds like we have a stay of execution here," said Rebecca Hains, a 32-year-old Peabody mother who brought her 8-week-old son to join about 100 protesters outside Beverly Hospital during the trustees' meeting.

Hains said campaign organizers would probably continue to push for a meeting with hospital officials and offer to work with them to revamp the state's malpractice system.

The hospital's dilemma is occurring amid a high-stakes debate across the country about soaring malpractice insurance and proposals to overhaul the system.

A survey released Monday by the state's medical society found that obstetricians were among the most likely caregivers to say that fear of lawsuits prompted them to order medically unnecessary imaging tests and to reduce high-risk services.

North Shore Birth Center offers women with low-risk pregnancies an option of delivering their babies without drugs to induce labor and control pain or machines to monitor the process.

It is run out of a cottage on the grounds of Beverly Hospital and features a whirlpool bath or tub for labor and delivery and holistic approaches for pain management. The only other such facility in the state is at Cambridge Hospital.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com.

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