Alabama: please learn from Utah’s mistakes

I read a great article written by Dr. Michael Flanagan, addressing Alabama’s proposed legalizing of direct entry midwifery. He makes several concise arguments about why lay midwives are not adequate birth attendants in emergency situations.

Complications of labor can include, but are not limited to, a baby getting stuck in the birth canal, tangling of the umbilical cord around the baby’s neck, bleeding, infection, or even unexpected immaturity of the newborn’s lungs. These dangers are possible even in the most state-of-the-art facility, but at least the infant and mother have the best possible chance of survival. I have personally participated in urgent and emergent care that required quick decisions by the physicians and nurses to save the life of the unborn child and mother. The same cannot be said for a birth that is planned for the home and attended by a lay midwife. Instead, you will have a well-meaning, but woefully undertrained and underprepared individual and a false sense of security for the parents. When a planned home birth takes a turn for the worse, the time spent in an ambulance ride to the ER can mean the difference between life and death.

 

Dr Flanagan is talking about births that just unexpectedly go wrong, and the problems associated with that. He cannot even begin to understand the negligence associated with unlicensed home birth practitioners, they take high risk pregnancies if there is no oversight preventing it. Home birth midwives in Utah, for instance, regularly attend breech births, vbacs, and twin births (or shockingly, a combination of the above risk factors). There have been fatal results.  Dr Flanagan continues:

 

There will always be babies born spontaneously in elevators, taxi cabs and parking lots. Most of these deliveries will likely be fine, given the law of averages.

This is true, and this is exactly why midwives can claim their practices are safe. Midwives also deliver far fewer babies per year than a obstetrician or a nurse midwife working in a maternity unit, and so they can claim to have worked for many years without a death, or they can choose to see the deaths they have attended as unavoidable because of their ignorance of obstetric interventions. They scoff at the idea that they have attended so many non-lethal births out of sheer luck, but its the absolute truth. Midwives take credit for good outcomes and deny responsibility for bad outcomes- its an abhorrent model of patient care. Dr Flanagan continues:

 

However, if the State of Alabama passes a law legalizing lay midwifery, it sends a message to the public that this practice is safe. This idea could not be farther from the truth.

I cannot speak for other states that have unfortunately legalized this dangerous practice. Perhaps no one spoke up against it.

 

Plenty of people speak up against it. Several physicians have spoken to me about the danger of home birth midwifery, the disasters they encounter at their work because of incompetence. A legislator in Utah told me in confidence that they believe most of the legislators in our state would rather not have home birth midwifery allowed legally, but the midwives are very organized and have friends in high places. They are willing to pour as much money as needed into their cause to make it happen- after all, if the practice is outlawed, they are out of a job (or risk prison). They have much more to lose than the average citizen (who will not choose home birth), so they understandably put more effort towards keeping their job legal. Midwives have a weird habit of teaching classes on activism as part of required courses in their midwifery school. They know they desperately need unity to keep the sham going because home birth midwifery cannot stand on its own merits. 

 

If anyone from Alabama is reading this- please, please contact your representative and tell them that you don’t want the state to endorse this practice. If citizens of Alabama fail to stop this action you will be in the same position as Utah’s citizens- watching helplessly as tragedy after tragedy unfolds before our eyes, fighting against a status quo of legal unlicensed midwives practicing without any oversight or required training. Every community values its children, and this is a very serious threat to their well being. 

 

Utah midwives make a mockery of peer review

Peer review is a process that exists in many disciplines, usually ones with high stakes decision making like medicine or science. The purpose of peer review is to verify the truth, and sometimes to recommend a disciplinary action (if the peer review arose out of an incident that ended poorly).  Peer review can be very scary for those who are going through it, since the idea is to be critical of a person’s actions or ideas. No matter how scary peer review is for the person being reviewed, it is absolutely essential to everyone else that it be done. Drugs cannot be put on the market because the researcher’s feelings might be hurt if someone points out a flaw in their study of its safety. Doctors cannot be allowed to keep practicing in a negligent manner because the peer review board thinks doctors should stick together. Everyone recognizes that patients and the public in general are the reason for peer review.

 

…everyone except direct entry midwives of course.

 

I found the utah midwive’s association’s peer review protocols, and they are an absolute joke. You aren’t allowed to question why a midwife performed a certain action. You will be asked to leave if you ask why someone chose the course of action that they did- this means even if someone died or was disabled because of the action, other midwives aren’t allowed to be critical of it.  You are only allowed to ask if they considered a different course of action. You aren’t allowed to hurt another midwife’s feelings, that seems to be the main concern throughout the document. They do peer review for “educational” reasons, although I don’t know how much education can be gleaned from a discussion where critical thought (which generally involves asking hard questions) is not allowed.

Interestingly enough, you also aren’t allowed to be honest about your case if it involved anything illegal. Here is what the practice guidelines say:

  • Please do not present cases in which there has been or may have been illegal conduct, such as an unlicensed midwife administering medications or a licensed midwife acting outside her scope (delivering twins, for example). We want the review to be a safe place where we can learn from each other. Announcing that you have engaged in illegal or questionably legal activities as a midwife puts you and each participant in an emotionally, ethically and legally perilous situation. Just don’t do it!

 

How are the midwives who are doing illegal things supposed to learn about the dangers of it if they aren’t allowed to discuss it in peer review? The utah midwive’s organizaton has lobbied to make it so that unlicensed midwives can take on any client they feel comfortable with, regardless of the risk level involved, and now they refuse to even let these women learn the error of their ways through a peer review instead of by personally maiming or killing someone. Its deplorable. It is worth noting that the majority of midwives in utah do not decide to become licensed, likely so they can practice outside the state’s guidelines. The Midwive’s College of Utah and Community School of Midwifery both teach skills for homebirths that fall outside the license midwife’s standard of practice (such as twins and breech births at home). These practices are encouraged in the name of “trusting birth”, and bragging rights of course. I’m sure its wonderful to be the breech expert in town like Melody Pendleton claims to be.

 

You can contrast their joke of a peer review process with an actual hospital peer review protocol. 

When the findings of the assessment process are relevant to an individual’s performance, the medical
staff is responsible for determining their use in peer review and/or the periodic evaluations of a
licensed independent practitioner’s competence, or in connection with any corrective action, in
accordance with the procedures and standards set forth in the Medical Staff Bylaws, Credentialing
Procedures Manual and Corrective Action and Fair Hearing Plan.

….

Peer review is the review of the clinical activities of members of the Medical Staff by other qualified
practitioners with comparable training and experience who can render an unbiased opinion on the quality of
care

 

Peer review is supposed to be about improving the care provided. Advising participants to lie about their activities or to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings is just another piece of evidence that direct entry midwives aren’t professionals, they just pretend to be to deceive more Utah families into hiring them.

If your baby dies or is injured in a home birth, if your midwife fails to show up or lies to you about the safety of your pregnancy, if your midwife does ANYTHING she isn’t supposed to, these are the people you are supposed to be able to turn to. But they will do nothing to help you, they turn their backs on anyone who does not aid them in the goal of hiding the deaths and injuries caused by home birth midwives in our state.

Holly Richardson responds

Holly Richardson left some comments on my last piece about her. Lets get the easy stuff out of the way, by disproving this bit that Holly said:

And ps: I have not hosted a “midwifery meeting” in almost 10 years. Your “facts” are, in fact, wrong.

holly gave presentationwhoops July 2013 was last year, not ten years ago.  I have my own copy of the audio from the meeting from before UMO made their page private, I will upload it soon. Now that thats out of the way, we can move onto the comments with some meat to them:

While I’m flattered you want to highlight my campaign, your anti-midwife agenda will get you nowhere in this state.

I am not anti-midwife, I am anti-unaccountable medical practitioners. I am sure that the majority of people in utah are.

And really, you have no idea what you are talking about when it comes to Utah law, the process we went through, or the mood on the Hill.

Holly does not cite the portion of the law that would prove me wrong or tell me exactly where I made an error, I am very interested in knowing where I made a mistake. I will correct it if it is demonstrated to me.

Sadly, you’re not even brave enough to use your real name to attack political candidates.

I don’t use my real name because I blog about my abuse history, and it is humiliating to me to have anyone googling my name find out that it happened to me. Newspapers use this same standard in their reporting, and it is reasonable.

 I am proud of my work on behalf of midwives in this state. We have a long history of safe midwifery care.

I linked to several stories of extremely dangerous breech, vbac, and twin births being presided over by utah midwives. Holly is already aware of how unsafe Valerie El Halta’s practices were, because they killed someone who did not have to die.

Dr Amy Tueter has a saying about home birth babies that die- they are buried twice. Once in the ground, and again by midwives and their advocates who don’t want the public to know about them. This is a prime example of being buried twice, pretending that there is a long history of ‘safe midwifery care’ when there was at least one high profile case of extreme negligence in the past two years. I am joining the skeptical OB in using the #notburiedtwice hashtag on twitter to make sure that these babies did not die in vain.

For those who practice outside their scope, there already are safeguards in place.

Oh really? Where were those safegaurds when I was pregnant, and my midwife lied to me about her qualifications and practices? Because I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for over a year to get something done about the midwife I had that acted outside of her scope and abused me during my labor. If there is some resource I am missing I am very interested in hearing about it, but so far I’ve tried the owner of the birth center where the midwife worked (who blamed me for what happened), DOPL (can’t do anything about unlicensed people), the police (do not know what to charge someone with who pretends to be licensed but isn’t, do not have enough evidence to go to the DA with my other claims), Utah Midwives Organization (who I had to pester to get a response and ultimately rallied behind the midwife that abused me),  and the Midwives College of Utah (who are putting a note in that birth center’s file for later- no idea what that actually accomplishes). Nothing was done. Valerie El Halta made the ultimate mistake, one that killed someone, and she got probation and a ban from attending other births in the state. She will probably just move again to another state where midwives can get away with being unlicensed.

We are a right-to-work state and we are predominately Republican, which means we believe in limited government and in people’s right to make decisions for themselves and their families – and those include healthcare decisions.

I am pretty sure that republicans also believe that little babies should not be killed because of their parents choices, right? Or are republicans pro-choice now? Because what I see is a lot of babies being sacrificed to letting parents decide to birth out of hospital, and in fact the states with the most restrictions on home birth are predominantly republican.

Although you refuse to use your real name, I am quite certain that you were never a part of the discussions to legalize midwifery in Utah, nor have you ever been involved in lobbying. It’s evident that it is difficult for you to read and understand the Utah code but I assure you, there are consequences for those midwives who practice outside their scope.

Once again, the consequences are not named and law isn’t cited, and I have first hand experience in trying to get something done about this and there isn’t any real consequence for midwives. There just isn’t. I am eager to learn of any new avenue for getting my situation resolved.

Believe it or not, midwifery is not my primary interest in running for office. It’s education and the economy.

It should be your primary interest because the state of midwifery in Utah is appalling and you had a hand in it. Take some responsibility and pledge to fix the law. I’m not going to stop my exposure of the deplorable practices of utah midwives in response to negligence.

You all are just one more tragedy away from this whole thing blowing up again. I can wait, but I wish I didn’t have to, I wish that someone with the power to change things before they get out of hand would do so.

Holly Richardson and the “rogue” midwife

I was able to get in contact with Holly Richardson (of Holly on the Hill), who is running for house district 57 in Utah right now regarding the problems with the midwifery bill in Utah. She was instrumental in passing the bill, so I was interested in what she would want to do about the gaps that allow dangerous women like Valerie El Halta to come to Utah and practice legally. Here is the first exchange, which she deleted from her facebook page:

holly richardsonI said “What do you plan to do about negligent midwives? Your bill is what enabled killer midwife Valerie El Halta to deliver babies in utah without a license. What do you want to change about the bill to prevent another tragedy in the future?

Holly “You obviously have NO IDEA what you are talking about but thanks for your input.”

I tried to reply but she had deleted the thread already. I am not sure what she meant here, I did know what I was talking about. El Halta had her NARM certification revoked before coming to Utah, she came here because she could practice midwifery without having to obtain a license. If there had been mandatory licensing in our state she would not have come here, and would not have worked as a midwife, and would not have been given permission by the state to kill another newborn. A life might have been saved by that legislation and we now have an opportunity to maybe save someone else in the future, but Holly isn’t interested. She isn’t interested in being responsible for the legislation she pushed through in Utah and its deadly results.

I would be more willing to be charitable towards Holly Richardson if she took some responsibility for what happened, but she doesn’t. I went back to her facebook page to talk to her more because I think the public deserves answers.

holly richardson 3I ask again about what she plans to do about the bill that enabled the death of this child. She replies “Which is why I spoke to the press about the rogue midwife practicing far ouside her scope of practice”.

I point out that unlicensed midwives aren’t subject to the scope of practice standards in the direct entry midwifery act. Holly claims there are standards, “including criminal”, but I could only find two actual standards for unlicensed midwives. They can’t claim to be licensed, and they can’t carry certain drugs. The law says that doing those things is “a misdomenor”, but when I reported the midwife I used (who claimed to be licensed but was not) nothing happened. Valerie El Halta was not charged for using prescription drugs w/her patient either, so the law is not being enforced nor is it clear what misdomenor police are supposed to charge unlicensed midwives with when they violate these (weak) standards.

Unlicensed midwives can attend any kind of birth they want to, and that is the important issue that is cause for concern in utah. They can attend a footling breech birth after 4 c-sections with triplets if they want to. Nothing in law prohibits dangerous practices from midwives who aren’t licensed. Holly knows that, because her personal reaction to the newborn death was to host a meeting instructing midwives on how to lobby to keep the laws exactly the same. A baby died and her reaction was to help everyone keep things the same so that this can happen again.

I want to take a moment to address Holly Richardson’s claim that Valerie is a “rogue” midwife, because I know that isn’t true either. Holly is an administrator of the Utah Midwives Organization. When they were getting together for an annual conference a few years back they had a poll asking who should be the keynote speaker.  Check out the names suggested here: UMA keynote speaker valerie el haltaLooks like you can choose Ina May Gaskin, Valerie El Halta, or “other”. Valerie came to utah after a long history of dangerous practices and dead children, so it wasn’t some sort of secret that she behaved this way. If she was a rogue then she was one that the community completely supported and accepted (meaning, she wasn’t a rogue at all). Only when the press came asking questions did anyone pretend like this death was surprising. Holly also pretended that it was unusual for midwives to practice far outside of the scope outlined in the direct entry midwifery act, but its not. I know for a fact it is not.

Do you have a baby that is in breech position after 36 weeks gestation (which licensed midwives aren’t supposed to attend)? Don’t worry, there are unlicensed midwives willing to help you out, and your licensed midwife will pick up the phone and call her if things get dangerous and give you tips on how to avoid going to the hospital. Here is a ‘breech expert’ even (whatever that means), who delivered an almost dead baby in 2011 because midwives helped the mom avoid transfer.  It was a VBAC too. That is a combination of risk factors that no midwife should find acceptable, but more than one of them did.  There are other breech stories floating around, and that the Midwife Alliance of North America (MANA) has demonstrated that breech births have horrendously bad outcomes when attended by CPMS in out of hospital settings. There is no excuse for why this continues in our state, knowing what we do now.

UPDATE 2/24- the story I linked to above has been removed. Luckily its been screen capped and can be found here. 

Oh no, but what if you have twins or gestational diabetes? What if you have those problems and a prior c-section? Don’t worry about that either, here is a woman who will take you on as a patient even though she isn’t qualified to manage those conditions.

Here is a story about an overdue set of twins being attended to in utah by a midwife (who was likely unlicensed).

Here is another unlicensed  Utah midwife advertising her willingness to attend vbacs, twins, and breech births.

The question I have for Holly Richardson, and anyone else who thinks the midwifery act in utah is so great, is this:

Do you think that the public will stand for deaths to happen again and again? How long do you really think this will last? Wouldn’t it be better to prevent a death instead of trying to cover up the practices that led to it?