Midwife start-up funded by Chelsea Clinic hit with lawsuit

Women’s health


It’s a multimillion-dollar startup backed by Chelsea Clinton and Glamor magazine that claims to “rethink” the way women give birth.

Oula operates out of two clinics designed to resemble the interiors associated with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand, where she offers midwife-led care that she says significantly reduces rates of C-sections and premature births.

Her high-profile events have featured CBS News anchor Gayle King, ballerina Misty Copeland and Seagram heiress Hannah Bronfman, while her polished social media feeds include motivational quotes for “birthing people.”

Chelsea Clinton (center) appeared at Oula events to talk about her offering of more midwife-led care for moms. It was co-founded by former management consultants Elaine Purcell (left) and Adrianne Nickerson. Oula Santé/Instagram

But now the healthcare company has been hit with a lawsuit that claims its negligence led to the birth of a severely brain-damaged baby.

The baby’s parents say Oula’s midwives were “reckless” and failed to convince obstetricians to act quickly enough to deliver their baby boy by caesarean section last year.

The Brooklyn mother and father, whom The Post is keeping anonymous, claim that midwives and doctors and nurses at Mount Sinai West, where Oula’s babies are delivered, used “contraindicated procedures” on mother and baby.

The infant suffered “fetal distress” when birth was delayed and suffered hypoxic brain damage, according to the lawsuit. Hypoxic brain damage occurs when there is not enough oxygen entering the brain.

Oula features Goop-like interiors at its clinics in Brooklyn Heights and Soho. Courtesy of Oula

Oula has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

“Our hearts go out to all the families who are suffering during what should be a joyful time in their lives,” an Oula spokeswoman told the Post.

“We respect health care privacy and cannot comment on this statement. We created Oula with a deep commitment to supporting families during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood and we continue to operate with that commitment.

Oula is one of several startups aiming to take advantage of a potentially lucrative change in the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to pay for midwifery care for pregnant women.

Oula founders Adrianne Nickerson (left) and Elaine Purcell (middle) hold babies at one of their clinics in New York. Entrepreneurs say they plan to open more clinics in the tri-state area. Courtesy of Oula

This change was driven by concerns that mothers in the United States had exceptionally high cesarean delivery rates and that maternal mortality rates were too high.

In the United States, more than 32% of live births were cesarean deliveries in 2022, according to the March of Dimes.

That’s more than double what the World Health Organization considers ideal for C-section deliveries, 10 to 15 percent.

In England, where midwives generally accompany women throughout pregnancy and childbirth, 15.5 percent of live births were by elective cesarean section, while 19 percent were d emergency, according to National Health Service statistics.

Entrepreneur Adrianne Nickerson said she and a business partner wanted to rethink the birth experience for women.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States are among the highest in the developed world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 32.9 deaths per 100,000 births in 2021, its most recent statistics. In England, this rate was 13.41 per 100,000 births in 2022.

There are about 14,000 midwives in the United States, compared to 21,000 obstetricians, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, although a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group said the number of midwives training programs midwifery was increasing. Midwifery training programs increased from 38 to 46 last year, according to the group.

Oula was created by Harvard graduate Adrianne Nickerson, with degrees in biology and global health, and Elaine Purcell, who holds a master’s degree in health care administration from New York University, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Oula’s first investment round secured cash from a fund managed by Clinton, who also has a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University. That initial funding allowed Oula to open its two clinics, and a third is underway in northern Manhattan near Columbia University. More clinics are planned in the tri-state area, according to its founders.

A midwifery startup in Brooklyn and Manhattan says it has delivered more than 1,500 since it opened a few years ago.

One of Oula’s clinics is on Spring Street in Soho, above the trendy sushi restaurant Sugarfish. And the other is in the ultra-wealthy Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, where its hotel lobby-like entrance sits next to the TikTok hit bakery L’Appartment 4F.

A new mother hailed the clinics, which feature buttered leather chairs and baskets of clementines, as “zen”.

The former first daughter defended Oula, who in February secured $28 million in investment from various venture capital funds, bringing her overall funding to $50 million. Clinton was an early investor through his Metrodora Ventures LLC.

“I am very proud to invest in Oula as they continue to build a midwife-centered model of care that delivers better outcomes for mothers and babies,” Clinton posted on X in December.

Jonathan Bush, the nephew of former President George HW Bush, was an early investor in Oula. Getty Images

Other supporters include Jonathan Bush, the former president’s nephew, who left his healthcare job at Athenahealth in disgrace after the Daily Mail revealed in 2018 that he had attacked his wife. Oula promises a path to profitability.

“The market opportunity Oula is pursuing is huge, and we were able to show that we had a winning business model and positive unit economics,” Nickerson and Purcell said in a February interview with Medium.

The start-up has delivered more than 1,500 babies since its creation and today has 60 employees.

But the trial raises questions about the approach largely led by Oula.

Oula has delivered 1,500 babies around her “collaborative care model” since the clinics started in 2019. Courtesy of Oula

After the brain-damaged baby was born last year, Mount Sinai West assigned a dedicated obstetrician to Oula’s patients, a source who did not wish to be identified told the Post.

The source told the Post that Oula did not have a dedicated obstetrician at Mount Sinai West until recently and relied on busy doctors and nurses in case of an emergency. Among the defendants in the lawsuit are nine doctors and nurses from Mount Sinai West, according to court documents.

“Wow, it’s all about money,” a source who did not wish to be identified told the Post on Wednesday. “It’s really a blatant and dangerous line that they’re walking.”

Job postings on the startup’s website include those for a clinical OB/GYN and an OB/GYN Laborist – a labor and delivery specialist.

“We are seeking a thoughtful and passionate leader who will provide obstetric and postpartum care to patients and collaborate with our midwifery team at Mount Sinai West,” reads the announcement on Oula’s website.

“This position is 100% clinical and hospital-based on the labor and delivery, postpartum and antepartum floors.”

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