DHEC working with birth centers on tougher regulations - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

DHEC working with birth centers on tougher regulations

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Within the last four months, many of the five remaining birth centers in South Carolina received citations for not having doctors on call for emergency assistance.

It's a part of the law that's been in place for 22 years, but midwives say this recent enforcement threatening their businesses is a new interpretation of an outdated regulation.

"It definitely pulls at my heartstrings," said soon-to-be-mother Heather Belden. "I really wanted to see my family's picture on this wall. And I don't know what I'm going to do."

More than 250 babies have been born at a local birthing center, but Belden was 35 weeks along when she was told her baby couldn't be born at the center because the center was closing due to increased enforcement from DHEC.

"The citation came as quite a shock," said Jennifer O'Bryant of the South Carolina Birth Coalition. "A doctor was required to come and provide medical assistance at the birth center 24 hours a day. And doctors sign non-compete clauses with their practices."

While most birth centers do have arrangements with local doctors, DHEC's sudden re-evaluation and criticism of these agreements doesn't sit well with many.

"It was something that was not enforced at anytime over the past 22 years, it was not enforced in their opening or every single year they renewed their license," said Bryant.

DHEC is now working with the birth centers to get them into compliance with the law. They released the following statement: "It is not within our control to put the law on hold. DHEC has not threatened to shut the birthing centers down, but has given them a deadline to evidence compliance.  If they are out of compliance, they have 6 months to get into compliance or ask the General Assembly to change the law."

There are just five natural birth centers in the state.

"They're leaving the door open for home births and even unassisted births, which is what some people are turning to now," said natural birth advocate Elizabeth Rego.

"You realize, I'm being pushed into having a hospital birth," said Belden. "My options are being narrowed down to the point where I no longer have a choice."

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