An innovative labor and delivery model known as Mother Baby has proved so successful at Abbott Northwestern Hospital that it’s expanding to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, but at the expense of obstetrics at neighboring Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Allina Health, which owns all three hospitals, said Tuesday it will phase out obstetrics at Unity in order to open an expanded Mother Baby Center at Mercy.

The move reflects the remarkable success of the Mother Baby brand’s launch at Abbott Northwestern, which saw a 23 percent increase in births in the center’s first year. Officials say mothers were drawn to the range of alternative and medical services in one location, combined with the availability of specialists from Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota to address any birth complications.

Allina is also renovating its obstetrics unit at United Hospital in St. Paul into a Mother Baby Center in partnership with Children’s.

Unity was on pace for 900 deliveries this year — down from 1,200 in 2014 — amid competition from the newer Maple Grove Hospital, and that trend would have accelerated with the July 27 opening of Mercy’s new center.

Services such as therapy for perinatal depression and breast-feeding support are difficult to fund at two small hospitals, but will be easier to provide and expand at a unified obstetrics ward serving both Anoka County communities, said Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina’s chief executive and an obstetrician by training.

“You can do them much more comprehensively if you don’t spread them across two centers,” Wheeler said.

Unity had become a favorite hospital for alternatives in lower-risk pregnancies such as midwife care and water births, and the staff and expertise from that hospital will move to the new, larger birthing center at Mercy, Wheeler said.

Exactly when deliveries will halt at Unity is unclear. Obstetricians will talk with patients who planned to deliver there and find out whether they prefer to move to the new center.


The decision will leave Unity in the unusual position of being a metro hospital without an obstetrics service. That is significant, since obstetrics is often considered the “gateway” to hospitals, and parents tend to use the hospitals in which their children were born for other needs.

While it is uncommon not to have an obstetrics unit, it was also wasteful to maintain delivery units in two affiliated hospitals that are just 9 miles apart and serve the same geographic market, said David Kanihan, an Allina spokesman.

“Every single [hospital] doesn’t have to be all things to all people,” Kanihan said. “It’s just not an efficient way to deliver services.”

Wheeler said Allina will look to develop similar efficiencies between the two hospitals in other medical specialties.

The move comes amid a gradual aging of Minnesota’s population that could slow its birthrate in the coming years. However, the annual number of births in Minnesota has edged up each year since 2010, after declining in the recession that started in 2007, according to state Health Department data.

Mercy’s services will include water births, which Allina had suspended at all of its hospitals last April after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists raised safety concerns.

The health system resumed them a few months later with safety protocols in place, including tracking the health of mothers and babies for research purposes.