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Steamboat women’s clinic, birth center absorbing patients from Craig hospital after it ceases obstetrics services

Steamboat adds midwifery program

UCHealth Birth Center in Steamboat Springs will be absorbing mothers and babies from Memorial Regional Health in Craig, while adding a midwifery program.
Lindsey Reznicek

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On hearing the news that Memorial Regional Health in Craig would be suspending Obstetric Services as of Saturday, Jan. 11, Soniya Fidler, president of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, quickly initiated discussions about how she could best prepare and provide for additional patients in need of care.

“We wanted to react and respond immediately,” Fidler said. “And ensure we have the appropriate staffing level to continue our commitment to care for the community.”

According to a news release from MRH, “The decision to indefinitely suspend OB medical services was not based on the quality of professional services and care delivered by our providers and staff members.”

As reported in the Craig Press, the release also stated that “MRH is committed to finding a way to restart the OB service line in a manner that meets the community’s needs and in a manner that is sustainable for the future.”

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Fidler said Yampa Valley Medical Center estimates it will absorb approximately 100 additional births per year as a result of the closure. Of course, some patients will go elsewhere, but Fidler said that is the local hospital’s best estimate.

According to Fidler, the hospital in Craig sees an average of 120 births a year. In 2019, there were 287 babies born at the hospital in Steamboat Springs.

The UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic already has an office in Craig, and the four OB/GYN doctors employed at the hospital in Steamboat travel several times a week to Craig to see patients and have for many years.

And currently, approximately one-fifth of babies born at the Steamboat hospital come from the region around Hayden, Craig and Baggs, Wyoming, Fidler said.

Well before MRH’s announcement, Yampa Valley Medical Center had already begun to take steps to add a midwifery program in Steamboat.

They had already posted a job opening for a new certified nurse midwife, Fidler said. Not long after the news from Craig, Fidler said the Steamboat hospital hired Liz Kilmer-Sterling, the certified nurse midwife from MRH.

Dr. Diane Petersen, an OB/GYN at the UCHealth Women’s Care Clinics in Steamboat and Craig, said she started talking to Kilmer-Sterling the day after the decision was made public.

The only other full-time employee of MRH’s OB department was Dr. Scott Ellis, who Petersen described as a “very well-respected physician.”

“We will continue to look at the numbers and what other additional staff we may need,” Fidler said. “We are exploring all possibilities and opportunities.”

Fidler and Petersen said the clinical, emergency room and administrative staff in Craig have had strong lines of communication with YVMC, which has been very helpful for bridging care.

The short-notice termination of care in Craig likely created anxiety for patients, they acknowledged, especially women nearing their due dates.

“We want to help make it less impactful for patients,” Petersen said. “And less disruptive to care.”

They also want people to be aware of the services offered at the Steamboat hospital, Fidler said, like the special care nursery and the higher level of care they are able to offer, keeping more babies and families close to home.

“We welcome every patient here,” Petersen said. But if patients want to go elsewhere, they are also working with them to “determine the best path, so they don’t have to muddle through this by themselves.”

The transfer of patients is already underway. Fidler also emphasized Steamboat has the capacity to receive any and all patients and will be able to make appointments for everyone who wants one.

The reason for creating a midwifery program at Yampa Valley Medical Center is two-fold, Petersen, said, and it just happened to be occurring at the same time as Craig’s loss of OB services.

First, it will help the Steamboat hospital plan for the future. Three of the doctors, including herself, are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Thus, they’ve been working on succession planning, Petersen said, not only in the logistical sense but also paying close attention to where medicine is going.

“We are looking at new models of care and how to provide the best, safest care,” Petersen said.

Secondly, the expansion is a response to what the community has expressed they want, Petersen and Fidler said.  

A lot of women are looking for something more like a home birth — in a more comfortable, less clinical environment with minimal medical interventions.

“We want to recognize and honor that,” Petersen said. “We want to address the needs of all patients, not just those who seek care in the hospital.”

The addition of two certified nurse midwives and a sonographer (ultrasound operator) also allows for more coverage and more face time for patients, Petersen said. The idea is also to be very team-based, she added.

Kilmer-Sterling will start at the end of the month, and the sonographer starts next week, Fidler said. They have not yet hired the second nurse midwife.

The UCHealth Birth Center at the Steamboat hospital already has beautiful, comfortable birthing suites with bathtubs and couches. Over the course of her career, Petersen said the suites are “the best I’ve ever seen.”

They also now offer nitrous oxide during labor — an alternative to an epidural. At the same time, the hospital and all its resources provides a safety net in the event of an emergency or just that something does not go as planned, which happens infrequently but can be nearly impossible to predict.

“It’s ideal to have multiple midwives,” Fidler said, adding that the hospital wants to be able to offer a broader philosophy around the delivery process if the patient so chooses.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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