Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is asking the state to start delivering babies. Now, the hospital handles only high-risk deliveries.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center plans to resume traditional, low-risk deliveries of babies by late 2019 — 41 years after the hospital voluntarily stopped such procedures on its main campus.

The move means Wake Forest Baptist’s facility off Medical Center Drive would likely be competing directly with Forsyth Medical Center, which is operated by Novant Health Inc., to handle care for pregnant women.

Dr. Julie Ann Freischlag, the chief executive of Wake Forest Baptist and its medical school dean, said in an interview Tuesday that officials had been discussing resuming traditional delivery services in recent years. She said her appointment as head official in May 2017 spurred renewed interest from employees on the subject.

“We’re going to expand our delivery services, so our employees can have the option of having low-risk births here,” Freischlag said.

Freischlag acknowledged the service would be available to all women in the region, particularly those who have a Wake Forest Baptist doctor as their obstetrician.

Novant spokeswoman Samantha Paz said that “as a matter of policy, Novant Health doesn’t comment on the practices of other organizations.”

Freischlag said she spoke with Novant officials Monday about Wake Forest Baptist’s birth center plans. She said Wake Forest Baptist believes “there are enough deliveries in the county annually to support two birthing centers.”

A 1977 “contractual agreement” between the two systems meant Forsyth Medical has handled the clear majority of deliveries in Forsyth County, as well as surrounding counties whose community hospitals don’t or didn’t have a birthing center.

Wake Forest Baptist said it began focusing primarily on high-risk deliveries in 1974. Both hospitals have neonatal intensive-care units.

In return, the agreement allowed Wake Forest Baptist to operate the trauma center that covers Forsyth County and much of Northwest North Carolina.

Move’s effect on

Forsyth Medical Center

The addition of competition from Wake Forest Baptist is likely to chip away at an important revenue source for Forsyth Medical.

Forsyth Medical had the second highest number of deliveries in North Carolina in 2017, at 6,423, trailing only the main Carolinas Medical Center campus in Charlotte at 7,241. Women’s Hospital in Greensboro was third at 6,128, according to the N.C. Center for Health Statistics.

By comparison, Wake Forest Baptist had 22 high-risk deliveries last year, whether identified for such care early in the pregnancy for the sake of the mother or baby’s health, or as complications occurred during the birthing process.

According to a cost-comparison listing on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, the average gross charge for an uncomplicated vaginal delivery at Forsyth Medical was $12,598, with an average negotiated settlement of $5,640, for an overall average cost of $6,958.

For a vaginal delivery with complications, the average gross charge was $17,617, the average negotiated settlement was $6,237, for an overall average cost of $11,380.

Wake Forest Baptist did not provide a projected average cost for vaginal deliveries.

With the option of giving birth at either hospital, it is possible that some pregnant women and their families may chose to comparison shop for costs.

Additional plans at Baptist

Freischlag said Wake Forest Baptist physicians perform about half of the deliveries at Forsyth Medical. She expects to maintain that ratio if the changes are approved.

“Our physicians will continue their normal advising patterns with patients, with the ability to inform them they have another in-county choice for where to give birth,” Freischlag said.

She said she isn’t anticipating any pushback on its attempt to resume deliveries.

Separately Tuesday, Wake Forest Baptist said in a news release that it is requesting that the state review a project in which it would renovate two floors of the main hospital, with it being completed by late 2019.

Wake Forest Baptist said it believes the project is eligible for exemption from state certificate-of-need, or CON, regulations because it is not requesting adding to its 885 licensed beds or altering hospital operations covered by the regulations.

The project would include expanding and updating its neonatal ICU, which would have 51 private rooms, with two reserved for twins.

The resumption of labor and delivery services would be located on one of those two floors to be close to the neonatal ICU, Wake Forest Baptist said.

The statement did not include any mention of requesting to resume providing deliveries.

Wake Forest Baptist did not provide a capital expenditure cost for the project, but the price tag is likely to be disclosed when the state makes the request availasble to the public.

Cobey Culton, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said that “as an existing hospital, as long as the capital cost with adding obstetrical services does not exceed $2 million, Wake Forest Baptist does not need to obtain a CON.”

Wake Forest Baptist currently does not offer private rooms for the neonatal ICU but instead tends to have four to six babies in a room.

The medical center said it also plans to move pediatric psychiatry beds to a site that it said would be “a better physical location.”

A new general acute care unit will be developed, with 30 licensed beds in the current pediatric psychiatry location.

The renovation will accommodate 19 patient observation beds and create four minor-procedure rooms.

“These changes are required in response to Wake Forest Baptist’s master facility planning to expand services,” the hospital said. “Modernization will improve patient safety, as well as the patient and family experience.”

What about Davie?

Freischlag said Wake Forest Baptist has no current plans for adding a birth center to its community hospital in Bermuda Run in Davie County.

Davie County Hospital stopped delivering babies in the late 1980s.

When Wake Forest Baptist announced plans for its Davie Medical Center in 2007, hospital officials said Davie mothers should be allowed to give birth in their home county.

In 2009, state regulators twice denied allowing a Davie hospital to offer those services during the process of approving the community hospitals in Bermuda Run and Clemmons Medical Center by Novant.

Other options for deliveries have been the hospitals in Iredell and Rowan counties.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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