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Mercy Drops Planned Midwifery Services After Dispute With Ferguson Birth Clinic

A Jamaa Birth Village client fills out paperwork to receive chiropractic care. March 4, 2019.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
A Jamaa Birth Village client fills out paperwork at the Ferguson clinic in March. Mercy Health has pulled midwifery services from a planned Ferguson clinic after a dispute with Jamaa founder Tru Kellman.

Mercy Health has agreed to pull midwifery services from a planned primary care clinic in Ferguson after a local midwife accused the health system of stealing her business and reneging on a care agreement.

Mercy announced in August plans to build a comprehensive health center in Ferguson that would include midwifery services. That announcement prompted Tru Kellman, the founder of the nearby Jamaa Birth Village,to accuse Mercy of poaching her business and breaking a care agreement.

Mercy officials last week said they would continue with plans to offer midwifery services at the new clinic. The two clinics offered different services and could co-exist in Ferguson, they said.

But after meeting with Kellman and others from Jamaa this week, Mercy changed course. On Friday, the hospital system announced that it would not offer midwifery services at its clinic.

Kellmanfounded Jamaa in 2015 to provide midwifery and doula services to people of color. In 2018, Mercy began working with Jamaa to share patients. Jamaa also agreed to provide Mercy physicians with cultural training to better serve marginalized patients.

Mercy had also agreed to leave midwifery services in Ferguson to Jamaa, said Kellman, who said there was a “verbal agreement” between the two organizations.

Kellmancriticized Mercy’s actions and demanded an apology. She received one during an hours-long meeting Wednesday. 

“We sincerely apologize to Brittany 'Tru' Kellman and Jamaa Birth Village for not honoring the spirit of the agreement and lack of communication,” Mercy spokeswoman Bethany Pope said in a statement.

The apology and announcement are a “huge victory for black women,” Kellman said Friday.

Kellman is still unsure about the clinic’s future with the hospital. Mercy broke the trust between the two organizations, she said. Kellman wants the two organizations to sign an agreement that ensures Jamaa would remain the midwifery provider in Ferguson.

Mercy also needs to find another organization to provide cultural training, Kellman said.

Kellman hopes the dispute serves as a lesson to larger organizations that want to work with underserved communities.

“They need to learn to be true allies. Not tokenizers or saviors,” she said. “[To ask] 'how can we invest in them and support them and uplift them without standing on top of them or tokenizing them?'”

Follow Sarah on Twitter:@petit_smudge

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