Maine hospitals limiting dangerous early elective births


Maine parents pushing to schedule an early delivery date for their new baby have to take a few deep breaths and wait.

Maine has one of the lowest rates of early elective deliveries in the country, according to a report released Monday by nonprofit hospital quality watchdog The Leapfrog Group. In 2013, 1.9 percent of all births in Maine were scheduled early, far below the national average of 4.6 percent and an improvement from 6.9 percent in 2012. (Check out rates by hospital below.)

The rate has dropped dramatically nationwide, as more hospitals limit early elective deliveries — inductions or cesareans performed before 39 weeks of pregnancy without a medical reason — to protect the health of mothers and babies. Critical development of the lungs and brain occurs during the last weeks of pregnancy, and early elective deliveries lead to more NICU admissions, longer hospital stays, and higher costs, according to Leapfrog. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has advised against them for more than three decades.

The national rate for early elective births fell for the third year in a row, hitting the target rate of less than 5 percent for the first time, according to Leapfrog, a coalition of large employers that buy health coverage for their workers. In 2010, 17 percent of births were planned early.

“This is one of the most extraordinary examples of progress in healthcare that I’ve seen in my career,” Leah Binder, Leapfrog’s president and CEO, who formerly worked for a health network in Franklin County, said in a press release. “It shows that public reporting can galvanize change, and that saves lives.”

Only three other states — California, Colorado and Massachusetts — posted rates lower than three percent. Indiana posted the highest rate, at 16.7 percent.

“Maine is fortunate to have physicians who place the well-being of mothers and children first,” Andrew Webber, CEO of the employer-led Maine Health Management Coalition, said in a release. “Important fetal development occurs in the last few weeks of pregnancy, so waiting until the 39th week of a healthy pregnancy is in the mother’s and child’s best interest. Premature births are not only risky; they are an emotional and financial burden for families, as the March of Dimes has promoted, healthy babies are worth the wait.” 

Maine’s rates of early elective deliveries ranged from 0 percent at more than a dozen hospitals to 8.6 percent at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which Leapfrog described as making “substantial progress” since 2010.

Hospitals may schedule early deliveries if medically needed, such as a mother experiencing high blood pressure or a baby under distress.

While doctors have been warned for years about the dangers of scheduling early births without a medical reason, the practice remained fairly common in the U.S. Parents may want to deliver early for a range of reasons, from convenience, for the mother or the doctor, to asserting control over the birth experience, to avoiding some of the physical damage that can result with a vaginal delivery.

Maine also has one of the lowest premature birth rates in the country.

Leapfrog’s results are based on a voluntary survey sent to 2,500 hospitals. Participation jumped from 200 hospitals in 2012 to 969 hospitals last year.

Maine:Early elective deliveries (view results of reporting hospitals)

Hospital Name City State Rate Target Performance
Bridgton Hospital Bridgton ME 4.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Cary Medical Center Caribou ME 3.8% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Central Maine Medical Center Lewiston ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Eastern Maine Medical Center Bangor ME 8.6% 5.0% Substantial Progress
Franklin Memorial Hospital Farmington ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Henrietta D. Goodall Hospital Sanford ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Houlton Regional Hospital Houlton ME 7.4% 5.0% Substantial Progress
Inland Hospital Waterville ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Maine Coast Memorial Hospital Ellsworth ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Maine General Medical Center Augusta ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Maine Medical Center Portland ME 3.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Mayo Regional Hospital Dover-Foxcroft ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Mercy Hospital Of Portland Portland ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Mid Coast Hospital Brunswick ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Miles Memorial Hospital Damariscotta ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Mount Desert Island Hospital Bar Harbor ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Redington-Fairview General Hospital Skowhegan ME Declined to Respond 5.0% Declined to Respond
Rumford Hospital Rumford ME 8.3% 5.0% Substantial Progress
Southern Maine Medical Center Biddeford ME 1.3% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center Of Maine Lewiston ME 4.8% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Stephens Memorial Hospital Norway ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
The Aroostook Medical Center Presque Isle ME 3.4% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
Waldo County General Hospital Belfast ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard
York Hospital York ME 0.0% 5.0% Fully Meets Standard

Source: 2013 Leapfrog Hospital Survey. Some hospitals don’t appear because they were not asked to respond to the survey.

Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.