A state board on Tuesday unanimously approved Illinois' first free-standing birthing center, a homelike facility that allows healthy pregnant women to labor and deliver with minimal medical intervention.
The two-room birth center at the nonprofit PCC South Family Health Center in Berwyn will be staffed by certified nurse midwives, doulas and licensed birth assistants; the clinic's physicians will serve as backup. In case of emergency, the clinic plans to transfer patients to Vanguard West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park.
"Birth centers are the future of maternity services," Gayle Riedmann, chair of the Illinois Birth Center Task Force, testified before the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board, citing "better outcomes, lower cost, culturally sensitive services and reduced exposure of healthy pregnant women to the infectious disease process."
Illinois supporters lobbied for two decades before a 2007 law authorized a pilot program that allows 10 free-standing centers around the state.
In the past, opponents have cited safety as a concern. But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Association of Pediatrics currently say both hospitals and free-standing birthing centers provide "the safest setting for labor, delivery and the postpartum."
The centers bridge the concepts of a hospital birth and a home birth, Riedmann said. "Feeling safe, comfortable and supported is vital to the concept of labor and giving birth," she said in an interview.
The center could open within the year, said Ceal Bacom, director of advanced practice nurses and midwifery at PCC. First, PCC must negotiate facility fees with the Illinois Department of Public Aid and apply for an operating license through the Illinois Public Health Department.
The center also will apply for accreditation by the American Association of Birth Centers, said Bacom, whose husband is an editor at the Tribune.