Rep. Sanford visits Lowcountry birth center; discusses DHEC reform

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford spent Wednesday morning getting a personal tour of the Charleston Birth Place by owner Lesley Rathbun.

The goal was to educate the former governor about birth centers and hopefully build on political pull to help pass new state legislation.

"We've been told we have six months to pass a law," said Rathbun.

Rathbun says it usually takes 2 to 3 years to pass a new bill.

"The current legislature will be re-elected in the fall so normally bills are introduced at the beginning of a two year cycle and this is at the end," Rathbun said.

Rathbun began pushing for new state regulations came after her birth center was cited for not having a doctor available to be on-site during operating hours.

Rathbun says the Department of Health and Environmental Control gave the Charleston Birth Place 15 days to provide a detailed lay out of its doctor-facility partnership or its license would be suspended. Rathbun says she's provided all the paperwork requested by the agency but hasn't heard back.

"I've gone to Columbia, I've brought studies, I've brought letters of support, I've brought documentation of the physicians that I have," said Rathbun. "I don't know what else I can show them to show that we do have a strong relationship with both physicians and the hospitals that support us."

Meanwhile, Rathbun is working to propose new legislation which would follow the national standard of licensing for birth centers. So far, there is no specific wording for the bill, but she is looking to the support of local legislators for help.

During his tour, Sanford said he supported the concept, especially from a spending point of view.

"I am a fan of efficiently using the taxpayers' money," said Mark Sanford. "You're looking at over $2 million of state savings ultimately for the taxpayer by going this route versus another route, and I think that's a commendable result."

Spending aside, Sanford says changes to DHEC could help alleviate similar problems in the future. Sanford says he pushed for similar reform while he was governor.

"It's a very unwieldy and huge entity in its present form," Sanford said. "One of the things that we pushed for in that regard was in essence de-coupling the healthcare component, which is huge within DHEC, from the environment enforcement side. We were not successful. There are a lot of constituents who like it the way it is."

Sanford is one of eight legislators who have visited or plan to visit the Charleston Birth Place in the near future.{}