State to increase access to midwife-led birthing centers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week instructed the state Department of Health to allow midwife-led birthing centers in New York for the first time. The DOH is now accepting Certificate of Need applications for midwifery birth centers as a result of Public Health Law Article 28.

The directive diversifies birthing site options and supports patient choice. It’s one of six key recommendations of the COVID-19 Maternity Task Force launched in April at the direction of the governor.

“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented stress and anxiety into the lives of expecting parents whose pregnancies have been disrupted by the uncertainty caused by this virus,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Our coronavirus Maternity Task Force worked quickly to put together a full set of recommendations to assist expecting mothers during this stressful time, and New York is acting to implement these measures so expecting mothers have access to a diverse range of birthing site options that meet their specific needs.”

When the task force met virtually in April, its members recommended that Cuomo issue an Executive Order to allow for the establishment of additional birthing surge sites operated by established licensed birthing hospitals and centers to help ease the stress of hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients, as well as increase birthing options.

The task force recommended that DOH expedite the licensure process to establish midwifery-led birthing centers statewide to ensure there are enough facilities available to meet community needs during emergency situations.

The task force also recommended that the DOH be directed to develop a streamlined process to accept applications from licensed health care facilities, such as community health centers and federally qualified health centers, to convert unused space in their facility to dedicated labor and delivery spaces during an emergency.

Through that streamlined process, the DOH already has approved two new temporary birthing centers, Brooklyn Birthing Center and Refuah Health Center in Valhalla, Westchester County.

“New York’s health care system stepped up to provide unprecedented emergency care during the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure expecting parents have access to quality health facility options when giving birth,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor and chair of the New York State Covid-19 Maternity Task Force. “By adding midwife-led birthing centers to state health department oversight, we are recognizing their vital role as safe and healthy birthing options and continuing to expand patient choice for expecting mothers.”

Other task force recommendations include:
• Extend the period of time a healthy support person can accompany a mother post-delivery;
• Mandate COVID-19 testing of all pregnant New Yorkers;
• Ensure equity in birthing options, which would include identifying and engaging community members and representatives from maternal/child health serving organizations to join a task force working group charged with developing an education campaign;
• Development of an educational campaign designed to emphasize the safety and rebuild confidence in maternity care at all certified birthing facilities and explain infection control practices in each type of facility; and
• Conduct a review of the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy via cooperation between the DOH and the University at Albany School of Public Health Maternal & Child Health Program.

Prior to the creation of the task force, New York state took several steps to expand access to maternal care during the pandemic, including the expansion of access telehealth and midwives, as well as mandating the presence of a support person throughout the birthing process and recovery.

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