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New midwife center eases crisis

The first East Pasco patients are scheduled for appointments today at the Sunlight Obstetrical Services (SOS) center, a midwife facility being touted as the solution to the area's problem with medical care for maternity patients. The outpatient facility, located in a converted dialysis center on U.S. 301 south of Dade City, still was waiting for some examining tables Monday but was expected to be ready in time for its appointments.

The SOS center is the East Pasco Medical Center's answer to the situation created recently when obstetricians withdrew their services after becoming overwhelmed by the workload of caring for pregnant women in East Pasco.

Services were curtailed when the area's federally financed health center announced it could no longer provide obstetric services to indigent patients because it was being saddled with more than its share of the hospital's workload.

The area's private obstetricians dropped out of service for fear of being put in the same situation. An agreement was reached requiring an even distribution of the chores, but health care officials continued to push for a midwife program to deal with the area's long-range needs.

"What we're doing is offering obstetrical service to the whole area - paying and non-paying alike," said Bob Dodd, president of East Pasco Medical Center. "We want to get our service going so we have some continuity and care."

The midwife facility, at 3415 U.S. 301 S between Dade City and Zephyrhills, cost more than $200,000 to start. It includes five examining rooms, stress tests and ultrasound equipment and a laboratory.

Its staff includes three certified midwives to provide prenatal and postpartum services.

Deliveries will be performed at the hospital and high-risk patients will be referred to staff physicians at the hospital.

Dodd anticipates the center will need an annual budget of about $1-million, some of which will be provided by patients with insurance.

But much of the operating revenue, he said, will have to come from other sources.

"We believe the county, state and federal governments are looking at being more responsible when it comes to providing care for the 37-million people in the nation who don't have any insurance," he said.

While many of the midwife center's patients will be low-income people who rely on Medicaid, hospital officials expect a fair number of the center's clients will be paying patients who prefer the personalized touch afforded by midwives.

"It's a private service where a midwife will be responsible for each patient on an individualized basis. It's our hope that if a patient comes in and sees a midwife, the midwife will follow a woman all the way through her pregnancy so she would not see a different person each time she comes into the clinic," said Liz Foster, public relations coordinator for East Pasco Medical Center.

Foster expects the SOS center will see at least 500 patients a year.

The center's opening comes with a collective sigh of relief from the area's medical community, which has been concerned about how to effectively deal with the needs of pregnant women.

"It means the answer to the obstetrics crisis in Pasco County," Foster said.