YVMC birth center delivers babies from across region

Special care nursery helps babies as young as 32 weeks

Morgan Abrams and Hunter McLaughlin, of Tabernash, welcomed Rio, a healthy baby boy, at 3:53 p.m. May 10 at the birth center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The second pregnancy for Craig resident Ashley Russell turned out to be fraught with several health complications, leading to time in and out of the hospital for a month. With her medical difficulties, Russell was afraid she would have to give birth in Grand Junction or Denver, away from her local support system.

Six weeks before her due date, Russell and baby Carlie couldn’t wait any longer. Fortunately, the UCHealth Birth Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs is equipped as a Level II Special Care Nursery, meaning the center can care for preterm babies as young as 32 weeks. Even if a local mom needs to deliver at a larger facility elsewhere before 32 weeks gestation, those babies can be transferred to YVMC at 32 weeks.

Many small or rural hospitals can only care for babies at 35 to 36 weeks gestational age, said Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, staff OB-GYN at YVMC.

“I was incredibly shocked that they even had a special care unit in Steamboat. I was incredibly pleased at what they had to offer,” said Russell, who said she and Carlie are now doing well.

Maggie Fess, RN, birth center nurse manager, shows one of the rooms in the birth center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. This room is for mothers whose babies may need care in the neonatal center and also servers as an isolation room. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Carlie was born April 18 at 5 pounds, 1 ounce after 37 hours of labor for her mom. The baby needed to stay in the special care nursery in Steamboat for eight days. After Russell was discharged as a patient herself, she was happy to take advantage of the birth center’s rooming-in status to stay in a postpartum room to help Carlie as the infant grew stronger.

“All of the staff are absolutely phenomenal. You can tell they genuinely care,” Russell said. “They handled the stress very well and made me feel very comfortable. They were all extremely comforting and compassionate. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthing experience.”

The YVMC birth center team delivered 290 babies, including seven sets of twins, in 2019 and 328 babies in 2020, with 12% to 15% of those babies needing help in the special care nursery. Through the end of April this year, 114 babies have been delivered locally, with 27 of those needing special care, said Lindsey Reznicek, hospital communications specialist.

The birth center has five spacious and well-equipped labor rooms, including labor bathtubs with waterproof monitoring equipment and long couches for dads to rest. The center can care for three moms in labor at the same time with regular staffing and has five postpartum rooms, said Maggie Fess, birth center nurse manager, during a tour.

“Should we have more than three laboring moms at once, we can definitely care for them at the same time; it simply takes more staffing resources,” Fess said. “Should we have more than five laboring moms at once, we can also utilize postpartum rooms or other rooms on the patient care unit. We will never turn a laboring mother away.”

The Level II nursery can care for up to three to five babies, depending on staffing, with facilities such as oxygen hoods and an isolation room. Nurses for babies with special needs are provided through a partnership with Children’s Hospital Colorado that shares rotating neonatal nurse practitioners to staff the local nursery. Since preterm infant care is a specialty, the nurses rotating from Denver also work at larger hospitals with greater patient volumes and stay fully versed on the latest skills and techniques to share in Steamboat.

“Things are always changing and evolving in neonatal medicine work,” said Barbara Carlson, neonatal nurse practitioner at YVMC. “We know so much more about how to take care of very preterm babies, and there are better medicines to help babies’ lungs evolve. Preterm babies born now have better outcomes.”

Carlson said babies born at the completion of 37 weeks — 38, 39 and 40 weeks — are considered full term.

The YVMC birth center staff have delivered babies for families from across the region, including from Walden, Kremmling, Tabernash, Hayden, Craig, south Routt County, Meeker and southern Wyoming. Late spring and early summer months are typically busier for deliveries, Reznicek said. Since the labor and delivery department at Memorial Hospital at Craig closed in January 2020 due to a declining volume of births coupled with financial difficulties, the facilities at YVMC have become even more important.

The first Level II neonatal nursery was established in February 1997 at Routt Memorial Hospital. When the current hospital, now known as UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, opened in November 1999, the obstetrics unit contained three labor and delivery rooms, two postpartum rooms for mothers and babies, a nursery for well babies and six bassinets for newborns who needed special care in the Level II nursery. Following renovations and additions at the hospital in December 2009, the current birth center opened with five labor and delivery rooms, five postpartum rooms, a family lounge and the five-bed, Level II special care nursery for a total of a 15-bed units. (Photo by John F. Russell)

“My biggest fear was I was going to end up going into labor and would have gone to the ER in Craig or had to go to the Craig ER and be sent to Steamboat anyway or delivering in the car on the side of the road on the way to Steamboat,” Russell said.

Russell said she is especially grateful for care from Jennifer Allen, one of two certified nurse midwives on the YVMC staff, along with OB-GYN doctors and nurse practitioners who specialize in pregnancy, reproduction and childbirth. The hospital currently is recruiting two new OB-GYN doctors and plans to restart in-person childbirth education and lactation classes this summer.

The birth center also offers virtual access to maternal and fetal medicine specialists through the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus so that high-risk pregnancy experts can advise local patients and doctors.

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