Listen to Founding Mothers Kitty Ernst and Ruth Lubic as they remember how it all began.
Highlights of 35 Years of Developing the Birth Center Concept in the United States
1975 - In response to consumer desire for alternative care, Maternity Center Association (MCA) in New York opened the Childbearing Center, a demonstration model with an approved Certificate of Need, Licensure as a Diagnostic and Treatment Center and a Special Contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield to study outcomes and cost (Luk J. Canoodt, “Utilization and Economic Analysis of the Maternity Center Association's Childbearing Center,” Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Greater New York, Health Affairs Research Department, 1982).
1979 - Tour of 14 centers in 14 states finds all centers experiencing the problems of being change agents and needing assistance.
1981 - MCA obtains funds to found the Cooperative Birth Center Network (CBCN) and to fund the first national (retrospective) study of outcomes of care in 14 centers (Anita B. Bennetts and Ruth W. Lubic, “The Free-Standing Birth Center.” The Lancet, 2/13/82). CBCN published “Recommendations for Regulation of Birth Centers.” American Public Health Association (APHA) published “Position Paper 7924: Alternatives in Maternity Care,” supporting choice of Birth Centers for women (American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 10, No.3, 1980).
1982 - APHA published "Guidelines for Regulating and Licensing Birth Centers." (American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 73, No. 3, March 1983). (Seventy-four percent of states now regulate birth centers). The Institute of Medicine publishes Research Issues in the Assessment of Birth Settings. (Out of print - available from AABC on library loan). Recognizing that birth centers could not grow without nurse-midwives to staff them, MCA forms a Task Force to explore the feasibility of a distance learning nurse-midwifery education program incorporating preparation for birth center practice.
1983 - CBCN becomes the American Association of Birth Centers (formerly the National Association of Childbearing Centers) with a multi-disciplinary professional and consumer Board of Directors. Plans for a prospective multi-center study of care and outcomes is approved by MCA's Research Advisory Council.
1984 - MCA brings together representatives of birth centers and the disciplines involved in maternity care services in the private and public sectors to write national standards for birth centers and to establish a mechanism for accreditation.
1985 - National Standards for Freestanding Birth Centers are adopted by the membership of AABC. Upon finding that accreditation through the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals and the Association for the Accreditation of Ambulatory Health Care will not be feasible, the Commission for Accreditation of Birth Centers is established by AABC as an autonomous agency. A pilot program for the accreditation of 12 centers is conducted with funding from MCA. An Advisory Council to the Commission is established. Withdrawal of the liability insurance program for birth centers and nurse-midwives has serious impact on the growth of new centers and the survival of established centers. The National Birth Center Study is launched despite market ferment, with 89 centers participating.
1988 - The Office of Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) recognizes the National Standards and the Commission for Accreditation of Freestanding Birth Centers for 100 percent reimbursement of services (Federal Register, Vol. 53, No. 78, 4/22/88). By this time, most major health insurance programs are paying for birth center services.
1989 - Results of National Birth Center Study are published in the New England Journal of Medicine (12/28/89) concluding that, “Few innovations in health service promise lower cost, greater availability, and a high degree of satisfaction with a comparable degree of safety. The results of this study suggest that modern birth centers can identify women who are at low risk for obstetrical complications and can care for them in a way that provides these benefits. ”The pilot of the distance learning program with students on-line, the Community-based Nurse-midwifery
Education Program (CNEP), was launched by AABC in Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, with the collaboration of MCA, the Frontier School of Midwifery & Family Nursing (FSMFN) and the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University (FPB/CWRU). CNEP is now located at the FSMFN in Hyden, Kentucky and has graduated over 1,000 nurses for study in communities in all 50 states. It is the only nurse-midwifery education program that requires a four credit course on birth centers.
1990- National Study of VBACs in Birth Centers proposed by AABC members to provide an alternative for women whose only alternative to hospital confinement or a routine repeat cesarean section may be a home birth with a lay midwife. The centers argue that women and home birth midwives actually took the courageous step towards VBAC and the professional community in birth centers should make an effort to respond to this need and study outcomes. Criteria for the study is established. .
1995- Most managed care payment plans are reimbursing birth centers.
1997 - Decision to put birth centers into cyberspace. Centers contributed start-up funds. Jamie Bolane, founder of Childbirth Graphics, donates a full year of her life to work with Kate Bauer, executive director of AABC, to establish the website.
1998 - Launch of Birth Centers Online (www.BirthCenters.org) - a joint project of the AABC Foundation and the American Association of Birth Centers. Birth Centers Online is one of the most comprehensive, multimedia enhanced sites on the web for birth center information for experienced professionals and families. First report of outcomes of the San Diego Birth Center Study - a prospective cohort comparison of 1,800 birth center and 1,150 traditional care subjects from 1994-1997. Conclusions: Study results support the safety, cost-effectiveness and patient acceptability of a collaborative management freestanding birth center model.
1999 - The Future of Midwifery - a joint report of the Pew Health Profession Commission and the University of California San Francisco Center for the Health Professions. The report of a task force convened to review available literature and analyze the health care market concludes “the midwifery model of care is an essential element of comprehensive health care for women and their families.
2000 - The DC Developing Families Center opens in Washington, DC. This center is an exciting new model of care that integrates the birth center with other essential programs such as Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies and daycare.
2003- AABC celebrates 20 years! Several centers celebrate 20+ years of successful operation.
2004- Publication of the National Study of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) in Birth Centers is published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, This AABC study of 1,913 women attempting VBACs in birth centers demonstrates that VBACs carry risks that suggest hospital care is best.
2005 - The National Association of Childbearing Centers changes its name to the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC). .
2007- The web-based version of the AABC Uniform Data Set (UDS) goes live creating the first online data registry for optimal birth by all providers in all settings. .
2008- AABC launches the National Study of Optimal Birth. 2009-2010 - AABC works at federal level for passage of the Medicaid Birth Center Reimbursement Act (H.R. 2358 / S. 1423) to guarantee Medicaid birth center facility fee payments. .
2010 - Medicaid Birth Center Reimbursement Act passed into law as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care health care reform law. “Validation of an Online Data Registry: A Pilot Project.” (Stapleton) accepted for publication in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. .
2011 - AABC develops new legislation which would make non-profit Birth Centers eligible for a range of federal grants similar to the type of grants made to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). AABC works at federal level for passage of the Birth Center and Women’s Health Act.
"It's interesting how Kitty Ernst and Edie Wonnell started out with me and have continued through the years being part of what we all want for women, and for families, which is an empowering experience."
-Ruth Lubic, CNM, EdD