UCHealth Women’s Clinic new midwifery program showing high demand
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Offering a more holistic approach to the miracle of birth, since January, the UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic in Steamboat Springs has added two certified nurse midwives to the staff.
It’s “the science of nursing combined with the art of midwifery,” nurse-midwife Elizabeth Kilmer-Sterling explained.
After Memorial Regional Health in Craig ended Obstetric Services on Jan. 11, Kilmer-Sterling was able to quickly transition to the women’s clinic in Steamboat, keeping many of the same patients and continuity of care.
“I hit the ground running,” Kilmer-Sterling said, and it has been busy from the start.
Since Jan. 20, she has delivered about 25 babies and provided care to countless women. Since joining the team in May, nurse-midwife Jennifer Allen has delivered nine babies. And they are preparing for a big spike in July and August.
The addition of the nurse-midwives, in many ways, provides “the best of both worlds,” as Kilmer-Sterling described.
Women have access to the three obstetrician-gynecologists and extensive medical resources, while also having the opportunity to benefit from the nurse-midwife approach which puts a strong focus on on family support, education and reducing interventions.
“Women in the area really were hoping for and wanting a midwife presence,” Kilmer-Sterling said. And based upon how busy they’ve been so far, the demand is there, the two women reported.
A big part of their goal, Kilmer-Sterling said, is to give mothers more information and awareness in order to empower their own informed decision making.
The nurse-midwives work in the clinic in all aspects of women’s health, in addition to their pregnant patients and regular on-call shifts for labor and delivery.
They encourage families to meet the entire staff at the women’s clinic, as they don’t know who will be on call when delivery time hits. And Allen noted the importance of instilling trust in mothers on the medical side of childbirth and the crucial role interventions can play when needed.
But they also offer a broader philosophy of childbirth, and some alternative approaches to the process of labor.
“We see women throughout their lifespan,” Allen noted.
For those with higher risks, or for whom require medical invention, the doctors are right there. “(It’s) the best of both worlds,” Kilmer-Sterling reiterated.
Allen offers the more technical term, “the physcian-extender model,” and notes how they are all able to collaborate and give patients more one-on-one time with a provider and free up the physicians by sharing duties.
In some combined models, mothers only see physicians, and some exclusively see the midwives, Allen described. At this time, Steamboat is taking a team approach.
Allen moved to Steamboat from Fort Collins, where she worked at a UCHealth-affiliated private practice. She said she’s enjoying the transition and adapting to a more rural environment.
The nurse-midwives are trained to do everything a nurse practitioner is trained to do, with the addition of the midwifery skillset.
According the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Many studies over the past 20 to 30 years have shown that nurse-midwives can manage most perinatal (including prenatal, delivery and postpartum) care. They are also qualified to deliver most family planning and gynecological needs of women of all ages.”
As many aspects of childbirth are normal changes, Kilmer-Sterling explained, the midwives work to explain those changes to mothers, make them aware they are normal changes and employ interventions only when medically necessary.
“There’s the science of medicine you learn in a book,” Allen said, and “the art of medicine you learn from relationships.”
Kilmer-Sterling said she started her career in a very “medicalized” environment and was drawn towards midwifery because she saw alternative — and better — ways to problem-solve certain aspects and challenges of pregnancy and the labor process.
The women’s clinic has also been able to add the expertise of Dr. Terry Harper, who specializes in the most specialized of maternal and fetal medicine. Harper provides care and consultation for the most high-risk cases.
Her online biography lists her three medical passions as: “Care of women after cancer treatment or with cancer in pregnancy, preconception care for women with complex medical issues or prior poor pregnancy outcomes and care of women in a pregnancy after a loss and early genetic diagnosis of fetal problems.”
Of course the COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted the clinic in many ways. They’ve been delivering in face masks and shields, the nurse-midwives said, which has been challenging from a human perspective. And moms are dealing with their own heartbreaking challenges, including restricted visitors.
There was a reduction in annual wellness exams, and many visits shifted to virtual. But babies don’t stop being born. “Sometimes people forget that,” noted Allen. The maternity wards don’t shut down.
Kilmer-Sterling also pointed to growing concerns about mental health, especially among new moms who are feeling isolated and navigating an uncertain and frightening world. She and Allen also talked about the babies — and how things like not spending more time with family, and trying to learn faces through masks could impact their development.
But despite a significant reduction in clinical visits, they’ve been taking care of plenty of pregnant women. Kilmer-Sterling attributes much of that to the absorption of the Craig patients. In addition, people come to the Steamboat clinic from across about five counties.
“Our team of five (three OB/GYNs and two certified nurse midwives) delivers babies for a good portion of northwest Colorado,” described UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek.
While both Kilmer-Sterling and Allen mentioned it is an ever-evolving model, at this time it is truly a team giving a unique blend of care and expertise — women have the opportunity to see any and all of the five team members, and all five share in various roles both in the clinic and the birthing center.
Kilmer-Sterling noted it has been great to work alongside the nurses, and share some of her midwifery knowledge and tips.
“I’m happy to be here and happy to be able to offer these services to women in the area,” she said.
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