Health and Wellness

New birth center fills health care gaps in Lane County

The remodeled space at 188 W. B St. in Springfield. On Sunday, Oct. 24, the Our Community Birth Center is hosting a grand opening event from 2-5 p.m. in-person and from 2-2:30 p.m. online. Photo provided

SPRINGFIELD – A nonprofit midwifery birth center is opening in Springfield, ensuring that a 40-year legacy of expanded birthing options will continue in Lane County.

Our Community Birth Center, located adjacent to the Island Park area, was born from a need to fill gaps in local health care services, after PeaceHealth announced the closure of its Nurse Midwifery Birth Center in late 2019. That closure depleted the options and support for natural and physiologic births. These services are a legacy to South Lane that first began in the 1970s in Cottage Grove, where a free-standing birth center first opened – the third-ever in the United States.

“The outpouring of community support was really inspiring” when the Nurse Midwifery Center closed, said AlexAnn Westlake, who was a certified nurse midwife at the time of its closure. Westlake – now the executive director and midwife at Our Community Birth Center – said that after the center’s closure, advocates then formed a community-based nonprofit later that year. 

The new center has since been supported by over 800 community donors and through nine foundation grants. The remodel of the space at 188 W. B St. in Springfield was funded entirely by community donations, and on Sunday, Oct. 24, the Center is hosting a grand opening event from 2-5 p.m. in-person and from 2-2:30 p.m. online. 

Our Community Birth Center will provide health care and support for families, birthing parents and babies. The birth center’s programs include pregnancy counseling, newborn and lactation care, women’s and LGBTQIA+ health care, family planning, classes, social connection and community support, as well as postpartum home visits.

Research shows the effectiveness of birthing centers, “In particular, when it comes to pregnancy health and outcomes … in Lane County, the Cesarean section rate is over 34%,” Westlake said, noting that World Health Organization reports that high C-section rates cause more harm to birthing people without improving the outcomes for the babies or birthing people. Conversely, birth centers have a healthier C-section rate of under 15%, she said.  

The Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative was a federal five-year, multi-site project that tested three models of enhanced prenatal care among Medicaid beneficiaries: birth centers, group prenatal care, and maternity care homes. It included data collected from the former Springfield birth center. Midwifery-led care in birth centers generated excellent results – showing better health outcomes and lower costs – whereas results of the other two care models were underwhelming.

“Everyone deserves to have options for where they give birth … it’s really a social justice issue,” she said. As a nonprofit, Westlake said that the center has a sliding scale of options that are fairly accessable to everyone, regardless of income or insurance. 

It’s a need that stretches far and wide. In Westlake’s experience, the lack of birthing options extends even beyond Lane County; she’s seen families from Linn, Coos and Douglas counties travel to Lane to seek birthing options. 

Amid the ongoing need to limit the spread of COVID-19, as well as the need to conserve already-strained hospital resources for those in critical condition, Westlake said the pandemic has only further reinforced just how important having a birth center is to a community. 

“Because we’re smaller and we’re based in the community we’re able to give more personalized care and support, even through the pandemic,” Westlake said.

According to the center’s projections, it will care for a minimum of 560 people per year, including 160 pregnant clients and 400 non-pregnant clients. Westlake said the center anticipates an average of 10 births a month, and 2,000 clinical visits annually. Over 50 people have already reached out to the center, eager to be placed on the call list when the center begins taking appointments on Nov. 1, Westlake said. 

The grand opening on Sunday will include a special “cord-cutting ceremony” – a handcrafted umbilical cord made by board members, in addition to tours of the facility, a meet-and-greet with board members and opportunities to schedule initial intake visits. 

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