It’s the end of an era for Okanogan county families that have delivered babies at Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster. Change is hard. As you may have heard, on April 1, 2020, Three Rivers will no longer be doing births. Many are grieving daily about this news.
I wanted to write a tribute for those of you that may not realize some of the people and events that have made Three Rivers Hospital an exceptional place for birthing families.
In 1999, when the hospital was called Okanogan Douglas District Hospital, I started attending births there as a birth doula with friends who were getting care from Dr. Linda Niehaus and Sheryl Smith (CNM), a powerhouse team of female providers in Brewster. They allowed mothers to bring in a rental birthing tub, set it up in a back storage room instead of a patient care room, and fill it using a hose for the moms who desired to labor in one. They later allowed many women to attempt a vaginal birth after having a previous cesarean delivery — something no hospital allows in this county anymore! Later, when I trained as an OB nursing student at Three Rivers in 2002, Karen Hurley, the current OB nursing supervisor and an amazing labor nurse, provided me mentorship and a friendship that remains to this day.
In 2003, midwife Sheryl Smith approached the Room One Mothering Group requesting help to remodel the OB unit at Three Rivers. With new mothers Georgina Tobiska, Love Cross and Sarah Halpin at the helm, they created a vision for a labor room with a tub, and a separate family room. With a generous donation from a Brewster couple that vision was realized.
In 2004, that same Smith and Niehaus along with two very influential Three Rivers staff nurses, Emily Canwell and Karen Hurley, helped to make the hospital “Baby Friendly USA,” certified by the World Health Organization.
By doing so, our little hospital became one out of only five hospitals in this state each year that choose to maintain that certification by committing to ongoing training of all their nursing staff on the benefits of breastfeeding and supporting mothers in succeeding to do so. I believe that action, and the continued support by the hospital administration, has been a critical factor in why many families choose to birth there.
I started attending births at Three Rivers as a self-employed midwife in 2008. I have had so many wonderful experiences with the supportive doctors and nursing staff there, including both smooth home birth transfers, and memorable hospital births where mother’s preferences were respected.
There are many other great things about doing births at Three Rivers Hospital. The hospital chose to allow the use of nitrous oxide as an alternative form of pain relief for laboring women. They supported the use of hand-held intermittent fetal heart monitoring that allows a mom to labor in a tub or shower without having to be hooked up to a machine. Of the many positive things about birth at the hospital, the nurses have been a highlight. Many have been there as long as me or longer, and they are incredibly knowledgeable and trusting of birth. In addition to being highly skilled and experienced, they frequently share great advice with moms on how to cope in labor. I will truly miss that family of nurses helping me at births.
I hope you will join me in thanking all the community members, hospital administrative staff, nurses and providers that have contributed so much time and energy over the years to make Three Rivers Hospital truly a Baby Friendly and family-centered birth location that is well regarded state wide. As one mom recently told me, “I was so appreciative of how they supported my wishes in my birth.” Of course that, and having knowledgeable, capable staff to keep them safe, is the desire of most families for their birth. We will miss you, Three Rivers.
Most of the obstetric providers working at Three Rivers will move to Omak’s Mid-Valley Hospital in April, and we are all working now to create an equally excellent place there for birthing families and I hope you will join me in trying to do that. Together, we can make another great breastfeeding friendly and family-centered birthing hospital, with a supportive environment of physicians, midwives and nurses, all working together to provide safe care for the families of our region. We look forward to seeing you there.
Blue Bradley is a nurse practitioner in Twisp.