Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Wednesday

May 14, 2014

Ed Ness: Caring for moms in northern Michigan

Many of us recently observed Mother’s Day with special gifts for the moms in our lives.

The region’s gift shops, flower delivery services, and restaurants traditionally benefit from the day. They should, because our moms deserve special treatment for all they do.

Mother’s Day also arrived at a critical time in our efforts to ensure childbirth services remain accessible across the 21 counties of the northern Lower Peninsula. Six of those counties have no prenatal care providers. Our region of 11,000 square miles has 13 hospitals, of which four do not deliver babies. Two of those hospitals closed their delivery units in recent years because they were no longer financially viable.

This is not just a hospital issue. It is a community issue.

The Northern Michigan Coalition for Perinatal Care was formed four years ago with representation by the hospitals in northern Michigan, the March of Dimes, Michigan Council on Maternal Child Health, Michigan Primary Care Association, Michigan Association of Health Plans, and Michigan Health and Hospital Association to ensure quality perinatal care remains available to would-be moms in the region.

Mercy Hospital Cadillac CEO John MacLeod and Sarah Helm, a Cadillac-area obstetrician, in February testified before a Michigan Senate appropriations subcommittee about the dangers facing the region if any of the remaining hospitals are forced to shut down their childbirth units. Their testimony was made urgent because more than half of the births in northern Michigan are covered by Medicaid. This does not mean the mother is not working, but her family does not qualify for employer-provided insurance. Medicaid expansion, which began last month, will help ensure more women and men have important health care coverage, but this coverage does not adequately reimburse physicians or hospitals for the costs associated with prenatal care and delivery.

MacLeod told senators that Medicaid paid Mercy Hospital Cadillac $683,000 less than the cost of care for OB services in 2013. That kind of loss is not sustainable for small hospitals.

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