Labor and delivery nurse retiring after delivering local babies for over 4 decades |

Labor and delivery nurse retiring after delivering local babies for over 4 decades

Registered nurse JoAnne Lewis, left, discusses a patient chart with her manager Heather Yeager, RN. Lewis is celebrating 40 years of patient care at UCHealth Birth Center in Steamboat Springs.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center is saying goodbye to one of its nurses who helped deliver two generations of babies in the Yampa Valley. It still surprises retiring labor and delivery nurse JoAnne Lewis when the baby is now a father or mother.

“A grandmother will come in and say ‘Oh, you delivered him,’” pointing at the father of a new baby she’s about to help bring into the world.

But after 40 years in one place, it’s to be expected. Lewis began her career in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in Denver where she spent three years before moving to Steamboat Springs at the urging of a friend.

Lewis worked at the old Routt Memorial Hospital back when it was on Park Avenue. She remembers when epidurals weren’t allowed.

“Back then, we did not have epidurals available like a bigger hospital, so you coached them through it … a lot of coaching through labors,” Lewis said.

Lewis must be really good at what she does. After all, her current manager at the UCHealth Birth Center said she owes her career to Lewis’ gentle hand.

“My husband and I were fortunate to have JoAnne as our childbirth educator,” said nurse Heather Yeager, manager of the hospital’s birth center. “We were able to navigate labor with an open mind and deliver unmedicated, but ready for anything. Joanne was my labor nurse with our second child, and she asked me if I had considered nursing school.”

Sure enough after four children, Yeager went back to school to pursue a career in labor and delivery nursing. Lewis even helped deliver Yeager’s sixth child. Yeager said Lewis’ influence and skills have shaped two generations of nurses.

“Despite being near retirement, JoAnne was our unit’s clinical champion during our transition to UCHealth, and her engagement level is special,” said Yeager in reference to the Yampa Valley Medical Center being taken over by UCHealth.

“Her impact will be felt by her peers and patients long after she turns in her badge,” Yeager added.

Agreed, said nurse Tracey Fortson, the hospital’s director of inpatient services.

“She teaches us through funny and memorable stories, as well as the difficult experiences that transformed her as a nurse,” Fortson said.

But maybe most importantly, Lewis understands that each birth is a unique experience.

“She is able to individualize each birth dependent on patient’s and family’s needs,” Fortson said.

In fact, another big change Lewis has seen over the years is the involvement of fathers.

“Years ago, fathers were just going into the delivery room and never stayed overnight with their spouse after delivery,” Lewis said. “Now, they come and stay the whole time, so you’re taking care of them more as a family.”

One of the few changes Lewis doesn’t appreciate so much is computerization.

“I liked paper charting. I feel like there’s more eye contact with the patient instead of just opening up the computer and signing in,” Lewis said.

Even as she readies for retirement, Lewis already talks of missing the excitement of labor and delivery and the hospital environment.

“I just really love working with these people. They’re phenomenal, like family,” Lewis said. “And the younger ones are really fun. They keep me young.”

But it’s Lewis’ “personal connection” with mothers that she’ll miss the most.

“It’s not something you can plan,” Lewis said. “You naturally connect with them and have this innate feeling of how much you should be in the room, or if they want more privacy or more intervention as you get to know them.”

Lewis wants to retire by November and will be traveling with her husband, Louie, to visit their three daughters in New York, London and Denver.

Recently, Lewis had the opportunity to witness the birth of her first grandchild in New York City.

“It was really kind of uncomfortable. You want to jump in but you can’t,” said Lewis. “It was way different. The care was not quite as personalized as here.”

After all, it’s not every hospital that boasts a JoAnne Lewis.

“Our hospital is fortunate to have someone like JoAnne dedicated to our local community and being part of bringing new life into the world,” Fortson said.

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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