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Founder Of Ferguson Midwifery Accuses Mercy Of Breaking Agreement, Poaching Business

Jamaa Birth Village Tru Kellman at the future site of the Jamaa Birthing Center in Ferguson.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
Tru Kellman at the future site of the Jamaa Birth Village in Ferguson.

A Ferguson midwife and founder of a maternal health center that focuses on black womenis accusing Mercy hospital of stealing her business and reneging on an agreement that would direct midwifery care in Ferguson to her clinic.

Tru Kellman, founder of Ferguson’s Jamaa Birth Village, said Jamaa agreed to train Mercy staff to administer culturally sensitive care. That agreement, reached in March, allowed for some Jamaa clients to use Mercy’s Birthing Center in Creve Coeur. 

Kellman also said that last year, she and the leaders of Mercy Birthing Center Midwifery Care agreed that Mercy Birthing Center Midwifery Care would leave midwifery services in Ferguson to Jamaa. But that agreement was not in writing.

Kellman said she was “blindsided” when Mercyannounced plans in August for a nearby Ferguson clinic that would offer women’s health and prenatal services.

Mercy’s announcement breaks the agreement Jamaa had with the health system and allows the system to profit from the work of black women, she said.

“Communities provide better solutions for their communities,” Kellman said. Jamaa “has been leading this innovative change in Ferguson ... and you have an entity that comes to partner with us under the guise of doing it the right way, and in exchange, actually they lied and undermined us to actually do the opposite.”

Mercy officials said in a statement they have not broken any agreement with Kellman. 

“Mercy regrets the confusion that has arisen related to our plans for strengthening access to needed health care services in Ferguson and we offer our sincere apologies to Brittany (Tru) Kellman for any misunderstanding,” wrote Bethany Pope, Mercy’s media relations manager.

Jamaa’s Ferguson clinic just off North Florissant Road offers midwifery and doula services to pregnant patients and offers support and guidance for families with an emphasis on caring for families of color. Patient advocates have praised the organization as a community-based solution to combating high mortality rates of black babies and mothers. 

The organization has been renovating a building a block away to use as a birthing center for its patients, which is scheduled to open early next year.

A March memorandum of understanding between Jamaa and Mercy provided by a Mercy spokeswoman outlines the training and patient-sharing agreements, but does not mention which organization will provide midwifery services in Ferguson.

Mercy in August announced the new comprehensive care clinic on West Florissant Boulevard, scheduled to open next summer. 

The new clinic, two miles from Jamaa, will offer primary care and behavioral health as well as women’s health and prenatal services, but won’t include a birthing center of midwifery clinic, Mercy officials said. Midwives will care for patients at the new location, they said.

“The services in Ferguson are not meant as a replacement for the services provided by Jamaa, but a complement to them,” Pope wrote in a statement. “Our greatest hope is to build an ongoing relationship with Jamaa.”

Kellman said she is no longer interested in working with Mercy. 

“You’re providing this care, and you have an entity that partners with you under the guise of having to help,” she said. “And then you find they take sensitive material and compete against you and undermine you.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter:@Petit_Smudge

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.