Physician exposes dangerous practice involving high-risk pregnancies at Indiana hospital

Physician exposes dangerous delivery practice

In 2013, Dr. Judy Robinson was the chief of OB-GYN care at Methodist Hospital, the largest hospital in Indiana, and also held the same title at HealthNet clinics in the state, catering to a mostly underserved community.

Dr. Robinson was shocked at the unusually large number of high-risk pregnancies, some of which resulted in tragic outcomes -- for either the mothers or their newborns.

As she prodded for answers, she says she was stunned to find that midwives had been given permission by management to oversee high-risk pregnancies without OB-GYN supervision.

"Whistleblower" host Alex Ferrer, a police officer-turned-lawyer-turned judge, explores Dr. Robinson's extraordinary journey of courage and truth in "Doctors vs Midwives: Dangerous Deliveries" airing Friday at 8/7c on CBS. 

Dr. Robinson has brought some 3,000 babies into the world in a career spanning over 30 years. "I get to participate in the most important day of a person's life - the birth of their baby," she told Ferrer. "When I was in private practice, I delivered people's second, third babies."

But Dr. Robinson felt unfulfilled in her suburban private practice.  She wanted to do more for those with less. So, she took a position at HealthNet clinics – then affiliated with Methodist Hospital – which catered to low-income, disadvantaged women.

She said, "I feel like I'm – I'm making a difference."

"Typically, the patients that I would see were very high risk. They had … multiple medical problems associated with their care," said. Dr. Robinson.

Dr. Robinson had been looking forward to working with a team that included a well-respected group of midwives.

"The typical role of a midwife, in my mind, can be a tremendous asset to any practice because he or she can practice obstetrics in a low-risk, normal patient population," Dr. Robinson explained.

In Indiana, Medicaid rules say midwives can take care of normal pregnancies, but the rules also say there should be physician involvement when a pregnancy becomes high-risk.

"So, you absolutely need to have that physician back-up no matter what," said Dr. Robinson.

But Dr. Robinson says that's not what was happening at HealthNet and Methodist Hospital -- a practice, she says, had fatal consequences for one young mother.

"Tana Tyler had medical problems that were considered high-risk," she said.

Ladonna Mills is Tana Tyler's mother.

"It's a struggle every day. Every day that I wake up and know that my daughter's not here," said Mills.

"If they had listened, if they had brought physicians in, I can't help but think that Tana would be here today," Dr. Robinson said.

It was a result, according to Dr. Robinson, of the tensions at HealthNet clinics between midwives and OB-GYN physicians.

"It was a midwife practice and we were not to intervene in the patient's care unless we were asked," she said.

A point that Dr. Robinson says was forcefully made to her by the head midwife.

"She put her finger right in my face and she said, 'This is a midwife practice, don't you physicians dare try to take care of these patients. … The only time that you're going to see a patient is if I tell you you're going to see a patient,'" Dr. Robinson told Ferrer.

"People were being harmed and," said Dr. Robinson, "it needed to stop."

CBS News met the family of Tana Tyler, who was considered high risk at 26. The outcome of Tyler's case is every parent's nightmare. Her son is now living with cerebral palsy, allegedly the result of substandard medical care.

By using midwives, who are paid less than doctors, HealthNet was reaping substantial savings. The lawsuit alleged that Medicaid was billed as though doctors had seen the patients when in fact their involvement had been minimal, if at all.

IU Health, which owns Methodist Hospital, and HealthNet had to pay $18 million back to the state and federal government in connection with billing practices. In litigation and in statements to us they denied any wrongdoing.

Dr. Robinson, still a practicing OB-GYN, was awarded $4.9 million.