North Charleston birth center threatens to sue DHEC - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

North Charleston birth center threatens to sue DHEC

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Charleston Birth Place, a natural birth center in North Charleston, has threatened to file a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The possible lawsuit is over a state statute that requires doctors to be on-call to assist midwives if an emergency arises during a natural birth. Officials at Charleston Birth Place said for the last 20 years, DHEC has allowed the doctor to be available by phone to give medical advice.

Now, DHEC is requiring that doctors come to the center to provide help.

That has not only officials at the center, but mothers all across the Lowcountry, upset at the new interpretation.

"I feel like it's unnecessary," Curry Ernst said. "I think that statement is implying that the people at the birth center already aren't qualified to do that and they are."

Jessica Smith is part of the 1 percent of mothers who had to be transported to the hospital while giving birth at the center. Her child was essentially stuck even though Smith was having contractions.

She said the midwives made a quick decision to transport her to the hospital. She said she would be worried if this new interpretation was in place while she was giving birth.

"I can honestly say my son's heart-rate would have probably dropped," Smith said. "I would have started going into more fierce contractions, and it would have been more dangerous for me."

Attorney Laura Evans has now been recruited by the birth center to prepare a lawsuit against DHEC. That suit will ask the court for their interpretation of the statute in question. Evans will also ask the court for an injunction that keeps DHEC from shutting down the center. DHEC has given the center 15 days to follow the statute or it will be forced to close.

Evans plans to file this suit by Wednesday if DHEC does not work with the center.

"If the new interpretation is correct, which we deny, then DHEC  failed to enforce these requirements for almost twenty years," Evans said. "We have tried to work with DHEC collaboratively, to no avail."

DHEC provided News 2 a letter the director, Catherine Templeton, sent to Evans. In that letter, Templeton said her organization, "would not waiver," on their decision. She also said the doctors would not have to be at the center 24/7. A physician would only be required in the event of an emergency.

Evans said she plans to file the lawsuit on Wednesday. DHEC declined an interview for this story.

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