Prospects dim for freestanding birth centers in this session

By: - March 7, 2023 6:03 pm

Katelyn Foust traveled from her Oldham County home to a birthing center in Indiana to give birth to baby Jude. (Photo provided)

FRANKFORT — Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said Tuesday that bills aimed at revising the state’s certificate of need requirements “are not moving forward this session.” 

Among those bills are pieces of legislation aimed at making freestanding birth centers more accessible in the state. 

Thayer’s comments came during Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Licensing & Occupations committee in which a birth center bill sponsored by Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, passed 7-3 after revisions. 

The certificate of need requirement is in place to regulate certain health care services and lower costs, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. There were 35 states and Washington D.C. with such laws as of December 2021.

To obtain the certificate, a freestanding birth center would have to prove there is a lack of similar services. 

The existence of the requirement makes it near-impossible to get the centers in the state. Kentucky hasn’t had any since the 1980s, Mary Kathryn DeLodder, the director of the Kentucky Birth Coalition, testified previously. 

“It’s very likely,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown, “that we’re going to have a task force or a working group or one or two committee meetings dedicated to the certificate of need issue this summer.” 

What are the CON bills? 

Funke Frommeyer’s Senate Bill 67 clarifies that hospitals can own and run birthing centers, reiterates that no certificate of need is required to open one and says birthing centers would be liable for any negligence.   

House Bill 129, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, passed the House Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations committee in February. That bill would remove the requirement that freestanding birth centers obtain a certificate of need, which Nemes has previously called a “cumbersome” requirement.

House Bill 312, sponsored by Rep. Marianne Proctor, R-Union, would exempt any three contiguous counties from needing a certificate of need if each county has at least 90,000 people and borders a neighboring state. That bill has not seen a committee hearing.  

What do the hospitals say?

Several hospital officials from around the state testified Tuesday against removing the CON requirement. 

“The CON process is crucial to the health and safety of our patients,” said Nancy Galvagni, the president of the Kentucky Hospital Association. 

Birth centers are only for low-risk parents, and not everyone will qualify to deliver in one. But the doctors who spoke before the committee expressed concern over what happens in the event of an emergency. 

“If a complication during birth arises, a quick transfer from the birthing center to the hospital is going to be critical to the health and life of the mother and child,” Galvagni said. “And without those written transfer agreements in place, a complicated birth could easily lead to the death of the mother, the baby or both.” 


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky. She has covered everything from crime to higher education. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. At the Kentucky Lantern, she covers mental health, abortion, COVID-19 and more.