Midwives win grace period

7 nurses affected when supervising M.D. withdrew

kgarloch@charlotteobserver.com June 8, 2012 

Seven North Carolina nurse midwives whose practices closed abruptly May 30 when they lost their supervising physician have gotten a reprieve.

In an emergency meeting Thursday, the state’s Midwifery Joint Committee approved a policy giving licensed certified nurse midwives a potential 75-day grace period to continue working while looking for new supervisors.

The committee, which includes members of the N.C. Board of Nursing and the N.C. Medical Board, submitted its “emergency rule” to the Office of Administrative Hearings for final approval. That group won’t meet until June 18, but nursing board spokesman David Kalbacker said Friday that the nursing and medical boards are operating under the rule “as of now.”

That means the seven nurse midwives can immediately continue to see patients and deliver babies.

Governor petitioned

The change comes after outraged nurse midwives and patients complained to Gov. Bev Perdue that the medical board was trying to interfere with the option of home births for women. The seven midwives, who specialize in home births, said Dr. Henry Dorn, a High Point obstetrician, notified them May 30 that the medical board would no longer allow him to oversee nurse midwives outside his own practice. The seven nurse midwives work out of Hickory, Durham, Fayetteville and Wilmington.

Public records show the medical board has placed no restrictions on Dorn’s license. Dorn could not be reached for comment.

In North Carolina, licensed nurse midwives are required to be supervised by a physician. When Dorn withdrew, the midwives’ licenses became invalid. That left dozens of expectant mothers, who had planned to give birth at home, without health care providers.

Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson said the governor’s office received dozens of calls and emails from midwives and patients and “made sure to convey all of those concerns to the medical board.”

Time to find new supervisor

The Midwifery Joint Committee’s new policy gives a nurse midwife 45 days to continue practicing while searching for a new supervising physician if the previous one becomes suddenly unavailable. A 30-day extension may be granted if a supervisor can’t be found after a diligent search.

Similar policies already exist for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who also need physician supervisors.

The Joint Midwifery Committee includes two nurse midwives and two obstetrician/gynecologists, in addition to representatives from the nursing and medical boards.

“I’m very happy to see this extension,” said Karen Benfield, of Hickory, one of the seven nurse midwives affected. She said she has asked four obstetricians in Hickory, Newton and Statesville to be her new supervisor, and all have declined because of concerns about how it would affect their malpractice insurance.

She said she’d like to buy her own insurance. “But I don’t have ten- or twelve thousand dollars right now.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

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