Beverly Hospital puts Birth Center closing on hold

·3 min read

Aug. 4—BEVERLY — Beverly Hospital announced Thursday that it is postponing its planned closure of the North Shore Birth Center.

In a letter to hospital staff, Beverly Hospital president Tom Sands said the hospital has decided to "extend the review process" and that "no further action will be taken toward the closure of the North Shore Birth Center while we extend the process."

"Doing so will give us the opportunity to bring together leaders from Beverly Hospital, Beth Israel Lahey Health, state public health officials, local elected leaders and members of the community to further discuss the complex challenges associated with feasibly operating the NSBC for the long-term," Sands wrote.

The announcement gives a least a temporary reprieve for the North Shore Birth Center, which hospital officials were planning to close on Sept. 8. The plan has prompted an outcry from the public and many public officials, who say the center and its midwives provide a unique and vital service for pregnant women and their families. The Birth Center is one of only two free-standing birth centers in Massachusetts.

Rebecca Hains, one of the leaders of the Campaign to Save the North Shore Birth Center, said Thursday she was pleased that hospital officials have agreed to slow down the process.

"I hope they continue to keep going down that pathway and find a way to keep the Birth Center open because it's so valuable to the community," Hains said.

Sands said in his statement that while the hospital is extending its review, it is not adding new patients or reinstating patients who left the Birth Center since the announcement of the planned closing.

Hospital officials have cited a shortage of midwives as the reason for closing the center, which opened in 1980 and has delivered more than 10,000 babies. In his letter, Sands said current patients of the Birth Center will continue to deliver at Beverly Hospital, as has been the case since January, and will be supported by Birth Center midwives in their post-partum care.

Sands said the decision to extend the review process came following recent conversations with leadership at the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Department of Public Health. The agency was due to issue a ruling on the proposed closure after holding a public hearing in Beverly last month that drew 200 people, with more than 50 speaking out against the closure. The agency does not, however, have the authority to stop the closure. The ruling would have to do with how patients would access the same services elsewhere if the Birth Center does close.

In addition to the grassroots campaign by citizens to save the Birth Center, which included a rally with more than 150 people outside the hospital in June and an online petition with more than 3,000 signatures, state and local officials have spoken out against the closing. In July, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton, of Salem, sent a letter to Sands urging him to keep the center open and requesting information about how the decision was made. They asked Sands to respond by Aug. 11.

In the letter, the lawmakers questioned why hospital officials announced their decision to close the Birth Center eight days after agreeing to a new contract that gave midwives a 27% raise.

Supporters of the Birth Center have cited several studies showing that giving birth at birth centers is both safer and less expensive than delivering in a hospital for people with low-risk pregnancies. They say closing the center would particularly impact women of color, who face disproportionate rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.