Virtua Health Opens the Only Freestanding Midwifery Birth & Wellness Center in South Jersey
October 7, 2021 - Virtua Health – a health system synonymous with maternity services – has opened a Midwifery Birth & Wellness Center to provide even more care options for local families. The Voorhees facility is the only freestanding birth center in South Jersey. It offers a natural approach – known as physiologic labor and birth – in a setting designed to resemble the home. Fittingly, the Center is opening during National Midwifery Week.
“Starting or growing a family is a hugely exciting time for everyone involved, and so we pride ourselves on providing personalized experiences that celebrate the individual and reflect their respective preferences and values,” said Stephanie Fendrick, FACHE, MBA, Virtua Health’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer.
Situated in a lushly landscaped enclave adjacent to Virtua Voorhees Hospital on Route 73, the center includes three birthing suites – each equipped with a queen-size bed, walk-in shower, birthing pool, and private patio. Families, including siblings, can relax and play in the communal living room or gather in the kitchen for meals and snacks. Patients have access to tree-lined walking paths so expectant women can keep moving, which helps labor progress.
The center also contains the Virtua Midwifery practice where women at all stages of life can receive routine wellness care, including screenings, counseling, and consultations. A large community room connects the practice and birthing area, and will offer educational classes and support groups.
Virtua is known for its traditional maternity services as well, delivering between 8,000 to 9,000 babies annually – more than any other South Jersey health system – across its three delivering hospitals.
A Vision Brought to Life
Karen McEvoy Shields, administrative and clinical director of the center, has been a practicing certified nurse midwife (CNM) in southern New Jersey for more than 20 years. McEvoy Shields, along with three other midwives on staff, are committed to providing a full range of health services for women through every stage of life. This includes caring for teenagers, helping women with fertility issues, providing pre-natal and post-partum care, and offering menopause support.
“We treat our patients as we would a friend or family member. It really is a lifelong partnership,” McEvoy Shields said.
McEvoy Shields helped guide each decision regarding the look and layout of the center. Her desire to create a comfortable, soothing setting helped inform even tiny details, such as paint colors and tile selections.
“When someone walks in, I want them to feel instantly relaxed,” she said. “Some people have compared the center to a hotel; others say it looks like a spa. For me, I want it to feel like home.”
The Birth Experience
The midwifery model of care is based on the philosophy that birth is a natural part of life, rather than a condition to be treated. The approach is holistic, wellness-based, and patient- and family-centered.
Physiologic labor and birth – often called natural labor and birth – is an option for women at low risk for pregnancy complications. It emphasizes a supported birthing process with less-invasive monitoring.
Facilitated by a certified nurse midwife, a licensed provider trained in nursing and midwifery, physiologic birth allows women to give birth spontaneously without an epidural or other obstetric intervention, unless medically necessary.
“Midwives take extra time for relationship-based care,” said Kamil El, a certified nurse midwife (CNM) at the Center. “I sometimes refer to it is as low-tech and high-touch.”
“We aim to really get to know our patients,” added Emily De Penning, CNM. “In our early consultations, we discuss their hopes and wishes for their pregnancy in addition to their medical history. That allows us to work together to shape the experience they have in mind.”
Should medical intervention be necessary, the center’s location, adjacent to Virtua Voorhees Hospital, gives patients quick access to a full range of treatment and care options.
“The Midwifery Birth & Wellness Center provides another option for women who don’t want or need to give birth in a hospital setting,” said Nicole Lamborne, MD, vice president of clinical operations for women’s health services at Virtua. “The Center is the result of Virtua’s commitment to supporting all of our maternity patients and their families by providing the best possible labor and birth experiences to meet all of their expectations.”