The Birth Center has a long and noble history that began with the vision and power of two women, Elizabeth Gilmore and Tish Demmin. To meet the growing demand for midwife-attended births, they started a home birth practice in Taos in 1978 that, evolved in 1981 to include a birth center as well. The original name of was the Northern New Mexico Midwifery Center.
The Birth Center’s history includes all of the midwives who worked in the clinic, dozens of midwifery advocates who served on the Board of Directors, many hardworking office professionals and countless community supporters who helped raise funds in order to keep it going.
In addition, the Center’s apprenticeship program has trained midwives who now work all around the United States and the world. These midwifes look back to the Center as the place where they trained to become licensed midwives (LM) and obtain their Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) status.
In 1997, the Birth Center expanded to become the Women’s Health and Birth Center, a collaborative practice which included care provided by three licensed midwives, as well as OB/GYNs Rudy Fedrizzi and Heidi Rinehart. The goal in hiring OB/GYNs was for women in our community to have the option to choose the place of birth where they felt safest, whether it be at home, the birth center, or the hospital. In addition, they wanted to assure seamless care for mothers who might transfer from home or birth center births to the hospital. In 2000 two more OB/GYNs, Shanti Mohling and Scott Resnick, were hired.
Between 1997 and 2003, the C-section rate in Taos County was reduced from approximately 30% to 15% as a direct result of this model, the first of its kind in the country. A woman who has a C-section is twice as likely to die from complications as a woman who gives birth normally. This change meant a drastic reduction in risk for northern New Mexican moms. The Safe Motherhood Initiative-USA, a project of the World Health Organization, presented the Center with a National Model Award in 2001 for “innovative and excellence in service to mothers and babies in Taos County,” one of only five such awards presented nationally that year. In 2002, the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services named the Center the first Mother Friendly Birth Service in the nation, recognizing “stellar achievement and commitment to excellence… in creating a wellness model of maternity services.”
In 2001 Elizabeth Gilmore retired as midwife, but continued to serve on the Board. Joan Norris became co-director with Rudy Fedrizzi. They worked well together, representing midwifery and OB/GYN interests. Their revision of the Personnel Policies established a retirement contribution program for the employees, a health care policy, vacation time and sick leave. In 2003, due to the financial burdens of the Center, our OB/GYNs departed to start their own practices. Shanti Mohling stayed in Taos and started the Women’s Health Institute.
Today we’ve come full circle. Joan Norris directed the Birth Center for 11 years and worked closely with Kiersten Figurski, staff midwife since 2005, to continue and create the best Birth Center possible. In August 2014 after considerable community, staff and board effort, it was decided that the Northern New Mexico Birth Center was not financially sustainable and it closed its doors. It was a devastating moment for the Birth Center staff, board and clients, but within weeks hope came in the form of a conversation with Taos Health Systems.
The Midwives and Board suggested that Taos Health Systems (THS) create a sustainable Birth Center to respond to the community's clear desire to have a free-standing Birth Center in Taos. THS agreed and with the Birth Center’s Board are venturing into the Birth Center's next incarnation: The Birth Center at Women's Health Institute.
Women’s Health Institute recently celebrated their 10 year anniversary at the Gusdorf location. During that time they introduced Certified Nurse Midwives in 2007 and became a part of Taos Health Systems in 2013, joining Holy Cross Hospital and Taos Surgical Specialties.
Today Women’s Health Institute and the Birth center have an exceptional staff, some of whom have been around since the beginning. The list of providers includes: Dr. Timothy Moore, OB/GYN, Dr. Juliette Labreche, OB/GYN, and Dr. Martha Morgan, OB/GYN, Susan Akins, CNM and Naomi Hannah, CNM
Women’s Health Institute opened their doors to patients at their new location 1331 Maestas Road on January 5, 2014. They successfully moved from their Gusdorf location to continue the Birth Center tradition since 1981. This offers choices to women of Northern New Mexico by continuing the community’s desire to have a free-standing Birth Center in Taos while maintain the option of a hospital birth.