There's special delivery and then there's extra-special delivery. When pop star Beyonce gave birth to her daughter Blue Ivy at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City earlier this year, news sources reported that she commandeered a $1,700 a night maternity suite complete with catered meals, a flat-screen TV and round-the-clock nursing care.
Offering luxury maternity rooms to women who can reach deeper into their pockets than the insurance co-pay demands seems to be a trend at large city hospitals.
At Mount Sinai Medical Center, also in New York, private maternity rooms run an extra $500 - $850 per night depending on the size of the room and the view from the window. Pampered new moms can order in-room gourmet meals, pedicures and luxury spa services.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles offers deluxe rooms for $2,673 a night that come with a personal care aide to attend to the needs of mom and baby.
Many of these rooms do their very best to impersonate a five-star hotel room. The bathrooms in Mt. Sinai private rooms are described on their website as "spa-inspired" with "decidedly female private baths" featuring Italian glass tile, elegant sconces, and decorative mirrors.
New moms can even rent "Beyonce rooms" if they give birth outside of celebrity-magnet cities like New York and LA. Medical City Hospital in Dallas, for example, offers private rooms with a foldout guest bed and large screen TV for $250 a night over and above insurance coverage.
It's not as if giving birth isn't expensive enough already: The average hospital birth now costs around $10,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more complicated deliveries involving cesarean sections, the price tag can climb to over $20,000. For some women part of these costs will be covered by insurance. But any added cost for special services and extra amenities are not.
Wealthier mothers are snapping up private maternity rooms as fast as they're being offered. Often there are waiting lists. But there is some grumbling that these posh post partum services come at the expense of other newborns.
Kathleen Flynn, vice president of the New York Professional Nurses Union which represents nurses employed at Lenox Hill, said that luxury suites were having a negative impact on the quality of care elsewhere on the hospital's maternity ward.
"The hospital wants to make money and we have no problem with that. But we do have a problem when they pull staff off the regular ward to staff the executive suites," she said.
A group of anonymous Lenox Hill nurses recently told the New York Daily News that while affluent women and their bundles of joy enjoy nearly one-to-one attention, sometimes as many as 18 newborns in the regular maternity ward are monitored by a single nurse. By contract, nurses are supposed to take care of no more than eight babies at once.
Flynn said the fancier rooms are only staffed when a patient purchases a luxury package. Whenever that happens – about 80 percent of the time according to the hospital – she said a nurse must be taken off shift from the main maternity ward. That's when nursing shortages arise.
Barbara Osborne, a media relations manager for Lenox Hill denies the allegations.
"At no point has our maternity unit been understaffed, as was reported," she said. "As a matter of fact, in the last two years, we've hired about 240 new nurses, representing about 20 percent of the nursing staff. We are dedicated to providing a single standard of high-quality medical care to all of our patients, regardless of accommodations.
But Flynn said the issue is so well known that some moms of means are passing up the chance for a pampered birthing experience for fear of being viewed as elitist.
"They don't want to be seen as taking away care from the other families," she noted.
However, just because a hospital offers facilities for the one percent, doesn't mean everyone else's baby gets the short shrift.
Dr. Laura Corio, an obstetrician who has been delivering babies at Mt. Sinai for more than a decade, said she has never seen any baby receive special treatment based on finances.
"Of course some rooms are nicer than others but regardless of the room a mother goes into, all the babies go into the same nursery, so staffing ratios aren't affected," she noted.
According to Osborne, Lenox Hill began offering the service to stay competitive and meet rising consumer demand. The trend may be born of economic necessity as well.
At a time where hospitals are faced with shrinking budgets and slashed Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, institutions are looking for new ways to generate income. Lenox Hill reported a $19 million budget gap last year and is already $7 million short of their budget this year according to a recent credit-ratings report by the Fitch Group.