Lawmakers Weigh ‘Advanced’ Birth Centers

Feb 13, 2019

With a key senator saying hospitals can be “Petri dishes” for infections, lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would increase the number of options for pregnant women who are seeking out-of-hospital deliveries. 

Despite concerns about safety and potential effects of competition on hospitals, the Senate Health Policy Committee this week unanimously passed a measure (SB 448) by Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, that would authorize “advanced birth centers” and allow them to offer certain women access to Caesarean deliveries and epidurals. The bill would allow the facilities to keep women for up to three days.

Harrell said when the state initially authorized birth centers, they were established for women who wanted “simple, uncomplicated, low-risk, natural births.”

Birth centers currently are precluded from offering women epidurals or from performing Caesarean sections, and babies generally are delivered by lay midwives or certified nurse midwives. Those restrictions have been limiting, Harrell said, adding that her bill “takes the next step” by increasing services that could be provided.

“This legislation takes the next step and brings birthing centers really up for a lot of women who would really like the opportunity of not delivering in a hospital setting, which can be Petri dishes for all kinds of infections,” Harrell said. “This gives women certainly the next option. A whole new level of experience.”

The bill is one of a number of measures filed for the upcoming legislative session that would increase the types of facilities competing with hospitals for patients. The House has pushed to lower health-care costs and, to that end, is considering bills that would allow ambulatory surgical centers to treat patients overnight and to establish what are known as recovery care centers.

While the Senate Health Policy Committee unanimously passed Harrell’s bill Monday, the proposal received bipartisan concern from committee members.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said the advanced birth centers would operate like “mini-hospitals.” But Bean, who is chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was concerned that, unlike hospitals, the centers would not be required to provide charity care to pregnant women in need.