Nadya Suleman told TV host "Dr. Phil" McGraw on Tuesday that she fears Kaiser Permanente Medical Center may not release her octuplets to her until she proves she can care for them.
In an interview with The Times, McGraw said Suleman called him Tuesday afternoon, distressed after talking to Kaiser officials. Suleman has taped two episodes of McGraw's show, the first of which is scheduled to run today.
"What she is telling me is that unless and until she has a better living arrangement, that they are not likely to release the children to her," McGraw said.
Suleman, a single mother who already had six children before giving birth to octuplets Jan. 26, lives in Whittier with her mother in a three-bedroom house that is in pre-foreclosure. Suleman has no job and relies on government assistance, including food stamps and disability income for three of her six older children.
McGraw said she told him that hospital officials had some concerns about her "ability to care for the children." He did not have detailed information about their concerns or what standards she might not be meeting.
"I haven't talked to the hospital; I haven't talked to the caseworkers," he said.
Kaiser officials declined to comment on Suleman's case.
"Any conversations that the mother may or may not have had on this topic are private and we could not discuss them," Jim Anderson, director of media relations for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said in a statement to The Times.
"In general, mothers with multiple births who have babies in the neonatal intensive care unit are given advice and counsel about what they need to have in place to care for the children when they are discharged. There is a multidisciplinary team that works with them in advance to offer advice and support."
The octuplets were born two months early, weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces to 3 pounds, 4 ounces each. They are all breathing on their own and in stable condition.
What physicians call late pre-term babies are those born after 34 to 36 weeks of gestation rather than the normal full term of 38 to 42 weeks. Typically, Kaiser does not discharge premature babies until they have reached at least 35 weeks of pre- and post-birth development, said Vicki Bermudez, a regulatory policy specialist with California Nurses Assn. and a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at the Kaiser hospital in Roseville.
When the infants reach 35 weeks of development, they are released once they can maintain their body temperature, eat regularly and without difficulty, and demonstrate continued growth. Often, the children weigh about 5 pounds when they are released, she said. The octuplets are at 34 weeks of development.
In all cases involving very premature babies, social workers are assigned to evaluate parents and to determine what services to which the children and family may be entitled, Bermudez said.
"If they feel there's a risk to a baby, they contact Child Protective Services and Child Protective Services would make a determination as to whether or not there's a reason for concern," Bermudez said.
The agency could place a protective hold on a baby while determining whether the home environment is safe. The children also can be placed in temporary foster care, she said.
McGraw, who has met and interviewed Suleman at length, said he too is concerned about her ability to handle 14 children on her own. "I don't think she has the money, the space, the transportation, the supplies, the manpower, I don't think she has any of that in place at this point," he said.
But he added that the foster care system, which is where children are sometimes placed in such situations, is not a good alternative either.
"What I have said from the beginning when I first addressed this story is that you can be upset with this mother . . . [but] you can't turn your back on the mother without turning your back on 14 innocent children," McGraw said. "They didn't ask for this."