Topeka Birthing Center's License Suspended

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Alyssa Menke loved her experience delivering her first two children at the Birth and Women's Center in Topeka.

"It's a comfortable environment. It's like you're surrounded by a bunch of moms and sisters and it's very empowering," Menke said. "I felt nothing but the highest level of care. I've always felt very safe."

Menke planned to return to deliver her third child in August, but she may need to make other plans.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued an emergency suspension order of the center's license after their investigation found several alleged violations. Under the order, the center at 1412 SW 6th Avenue is not allowed to provide delivery and recovery services to women and their newborns. The suspension order was accompanied by an notice of intent to revoke the center's license.

Dr. Josie Norris of the Center told 13 News by phone that the staff continues to provide prenatal care and is in the process of notifying its clients of the situation. She also said they are working with clients who have imminent due dates to ensure they receive proper care. She estimated it affects about 100 women.

Carol Ruth Bonebrake, attorney for the Center, said the actions apply only to the facility, not to the license of any staff. She said staff is able to continue home deliveries, if clients desire. The Center posted a full statement on its Facebook page, saying "We are devastated. This was completely unexpected. We are in a temporary holding pattern and should have some real answers within the near future."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment began an investigation in September 2014 after receiving complaints over the past three years. It found that the health and safety of "a number of women and infants had been endangered by the center."

Among the areas of concern:
"-Failed to provide a suitable environment and to practice acceptable procedures resulting in women and children being placed at unnecessary risk
-Failed to limit clients to those at low maternity risk
-Failed to maintain adequate records
-Failed to properly report birth and adverse incidents
-Failed to establish and comply with quality assurance measures
-Failed to transfer women and newborns to other facilities when appropriate and necessary"

A review of patient documents as part of the investigation found that some clients and newborns who were having problems and complications were not transferred to another facility in the timely, required manner. It also found the center carrying for women at high risk of complications, when they should not have been doing so.

The notice of intent to revoke lists seven patient examples, including a woman with a body mass index of 52. KDHE notes a BMI over 30 is considered obese and at higher risk for complications. The notice also notes two patients admitted for delivery past 42 weeks, when beyond 40 to 41 weeks. is considered higher risk. In one of those cases, the document states the baby spent five days in the NICU.

In another case, the notice state a mother had rising blood pressure throughout labor, and, two hours after delivery, reported she couldn't move her left arm and had difficulty speaking. According to the notice, the woman was npt transferred to a hospital until nearly 80 minutes later. The notice did not state the outcome.

KDHE also says some documentations and records of clients were not properly kept, and the records of one woman did not contain any risk assessment score.

KDHE's investigation report says the center did not have a written agreement with a medical practice or hospital to provide care following a transfer to a hospital. The investigation report reads: "A communication to KDHE from the center [...] stated that the only physician on the staff of the center no longer had privileges at any local hospitals."

The center was required to have a Board of Directors and that they would meet twice a year to go over policies and procedures, however, no evidence of a governing body was found.

The investigation concludes by saying the Birth and Women's Center "failed to operate itself, as a maternity center, with strict regard for the health, safety and welfare of women and children."

Dr. Norris says many of the records issues are linked to the center transitioning to electronic medical records. She said staff was continuing to work out how to get all data entered properly and accessible.

She also said the Center does have directors who meet frequently, but they did not have written minutes of their meetings as is required.

The center has until February 24th to file a written request for a hearing. Bonebrake says she expects that request to be filed Friday. She said KDHE has told them the case will be put on an expedited process.

Menke hopes they're successful in time for baby number three.

"What I read and my experiences just don't line up," she said. "The thought of number three maybe not being able to be delivered there is kind of devastating, honestly."