New policy grants grace period for home birth midwives after doctor bails

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 7, 2012 

— The Midwifery Joint Committee of North Carolina approved a new policy Thursday giving certified nurse midwives a potential 75-day grace period to practice after learning of sudden unavailability of their supervising physician.

The policy is merely a recommendation that must be approved by the state’s Rules Review Commission before it is effective. It could possibly be approved as soon as Friday, according to N.C. Medical Board spokeswoman Jean Fisher Brinkley.

The policy was drawn up in the aftermath of last week, when High Point obstetrician Dr. Henry Dorn informed his seven CNMs – who assisted home births in Hickory, Durham, Fayetteville and Wilmington – that he could no longer supervise them. Outraged midwives and home birth advocates complained that Dorn was forced into the move by the N.C. Medical Board, and complained that in most of the state, there were no other doctors able and willing to supervise midwives that practice home birth, leaving the CNMs with their practice taken out from under them.

“There is misinformation about the Medical Board out there. The perception is that the Medical Board shut down the practice of midwives in North Carolina. That’s not true,” Brinkley said.

The board has done nothing to prevent Dorn or any other physician from supervising midwives, Brinkley said. She could not comment on whether or not there was a Board investigation pending into Dorn, citing state law.

The new policy states that midwives must notify the Joint Committee – which has three Medical Board members – and Medical Board within two business days of learning of sudden illness, injury, death or other unforeseen unavailability of a primary supervising physician. They may practice for 45 days while applying for a new one, and may apply for an extension of 30 days if a diligent search is unable to locate one.

Brinkley said the policy, though new, mirrors policies of physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

North Carolina midwives have complained about an inability to find another physician to oversee home birth. The state Medical Board’s website says it is neither against nor for home birth, does not license CNMs nor have the ability to restrict them. It also says the Board has no plans to create policy that would prohibit physicians from supervising CNMs.

Brinkley said the board has nothing to do with administering hospital privileges or liability insurance. She was unsure if the two-day window would limit those effected by Dorn’s decision.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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