Updated at 11 a.m. Oct. 14

Staff at the North Shore Birth Center on the campus of Beverly Hospital say they've delivered their last baby.

The center was the only stand-alone midwife-led birth center currently delivering babies in Eastern Massachusetts. Beth Israel Lahey Health had announced plans in May to close the center, citing staffing shortages.

Internal emails from September that were shared with GBH News show staff were directed to not make any appointments after Oct. 11. But in a statement, the president of Beverly Hospital said the center remains open to provide "established patients with any post-partum care they might need, and for the provision of routine gynecological services." On Thursday, after this story published, staff confirmed they'd just been told the center would provide gynecologic services for current patients one day a week. The birth center is not taking on any new patients.

"I'm sad and really disappointed that the hospital and the obstetric practice could not come up with a solution for supporting us and continuing the birth center," Esther Hausman, a midwife at the birth center, told GBH News. "It was an amazing service for women for the past 41 years. And I'm just really sad for the community, [and] sad for me, because I enjoyed my job. It's very disappointing."

"I think it's profits over patients," said Katie Murphy, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "There is a demand. There is a real need for this. But they can charge much more money from both the patients and from insurers if the babies are born in a hospital. And it's more lucrative for physicians' practices versus midwives at the North Shore Birth Center."

Areport from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission released in January highlighted improved outcomes and lower costs for those who receive midwifery care. The report showed 17% of births in Massachusetts are attended by certified nurse midwives — higher than the national average of 10%. But while most hospitals in the state offering maternity care also offer midwifery services, the commission said the role of those certified nurse midwives varies greatly between hospitals. The report also recommends policies that allow families to deliver babies in non-hospital settings, which currently account for less than 1% of births in the state.

Murphy said the staffing problems at the North Shore Birth Center were the result of midwives being paid less than elsewhere in the state.

"You need to make a living wage, so they were going other places," Murphy said. "So the hospital was saying, 'Look, we can't provide for the patients.' But there was still the demand there. So we negotiated raises for the nurse midwives. And we said, 'We will commit to finding the nurse midwives to work there with this increased salary.'"

Days after that agreement, Murphy said, Beth Israel Lahey Health announced the center was closing.

The announcement resulted in protests, and on Aug. 2, the Beth Israel Lahey Health President and CEO Kevin Tabb sent a letterto Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, pledging to discuss the issue further within the hospital, with state officials and with the community.

"We agree that no further decisions about the operation of the North Shore Birth Center will be made in the next 90 days while we engage in these discussions," Tabb wrote.

Those 90 days would not be up until the end of this month.

“Beverly Hospital is committed to providing our community safe, high-quality labor and delivery services within a hospital setting," Tom Sands, president of Beverly Hospital, said in a statement to GBH News. "Beverly Hospital continues to work in partnership with elected officials and our local community to further discuss how elements of the experience within the birth center could be incorporated into the hospital’s labor and delivery setting.”

For some of the mothers who gave birth at the North Shore Birth Center, though, one of the main benefits was the ability to deliver a child somewhere other than in a hospital.

"There's no need to medicalized childbirth in a low-risk pregnancy," said Rebecca Hains, who delivered all of her three children at the North Shore Birth Center, and who has been a member of the campaign to save the center.

Hains noted mothers who give birth at a center led by midwives are far less likely to wind up giving birth by C-section.

"It's important that C-sections are available for those who need them," she said. "But too often women wind up with this majorly invasive surgery that could have been prevented, had a different model of care been used."

Because of its location on the campus of Beverly Hospital, Hains said, the North Shore Birth Center was the best of both worlds.

"For my part, I felt very reassured by that," she said. "As a new mom, I thought it was ideal to say, 'Wow, I can have a low-intervention birth, but if something goes wrong, they're right there.' It's so reassuring and empowering. And to lose that, it's really unfortunate."

Beth Israel Lahey Health officials said North Shore Birth Center was not, in fact, the only free-standing birth center in Eastern Massachusetts, since there's another one in Cambridge. But because of the pandemic, that facility is currently not delivering babies, and those deliveries are happening at Cambridge Hospital.

This story was updated to clarify and update details about the center's current operations.