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New Indiana law aims to ensure pregnant women deliver at most appropriate birthing facility

Gov. Eric Holcomb, seated center, beams Thursday after signing into law Senate Enrolled Act 360, requiring the State Department of Health to certify the perinatal levels of care available at Indiana hospitals and birthing centers. Seated alongside the governor for the signing ceremony at Indianapolis' Peyton Manning Children's Hospital were state Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, and state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who received one of the pens Holcomb used to enact the new law.

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law Thursday a measure that he expects will start Indiana toward his goal of having the lowest infant mortality rate in the Midwest by 2024.

Senate Enrolled Act 360, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, requires the State Department of Health to establish a program to certify the perinatal levels of care available at Indiana hospitals and birthing centers.

Currently, the 90 Indiana birthing facilities self-identify their level of care. But a recent state health department survey found significant gaps between the care they say they offer and what actually is available.

The Republican governor said making sure Hoosier women understand their pregnancy risk level, and deliver their babies at a location with staff and equipment ready to meet their needs, will lead to better health outcomes for both mother and child.

"We know we can’t fix our state's infant mortality problem overnight, but this bill will help us save Hoosier lives," Holcomb said.

"I commend lawmakers for working with our Department of Health and Indiana’s health care providers on the front lines to advance this important legislation."

National medical groups have established four levels of care: Level I, basic care of an uncomplicated pregnancy; Level II, specialty care for higher risk pregnancies; Level III, advanced care for complex maternal or fetal conditions; and Level IV, regional comprehensive perinatal health center.

The state-certified levels likely won't be available until 2019, as the new law requiring health department certification does not take effect until July 1.

Nevertheless, Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box are optimistic the program will help improve Indiana's 42nd national ranking for infant mortality that in 2016 saw 623 Hoosier babies die before their first birthdays.

"In my 30 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist, I have seen firsthand the importance of having women deliver their babies at a facility that is equipped to meet their needs," Box said. "That’s why I am proud that Indiana is adopting levels of care."

Charbonneau likewise said he was proud to have shepherded the proposal through the General Assembly and into law.

"This is an important step to help reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate by ensuring pregnant women are able to deliver their babies at a facility that is equipped to meet their needs," he said.

The new law was approved 49-0 in the Indiana Senate and 95-0 by the House.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.