The Juneau Family Health and Birth Center, April 28, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

The Juneau Family Health and Birth Center, April 28, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Special delivery? Juneau home birth center poised to take up slack from hospital

Could be an option for those who want to avoid taking resources or exposure to the coronavirus.

As Bartlett Regional Hospital remains the region’s primary treatment center for the coronavirus, the Juneau Family Birth Center is poised to relieve some strain where they can.

“Nationally, there has been a really big interest in looking at out-of-hospital births as a way of keeping the health system from being overburdened,” said Madi Grimes, director of the JFBC in a phone interview. “Some people are also scared of going to the hospital.”

JFBC is the only accredited birth center in Southeast Alaska, Grimes said. Located near Bartlett Regional Hospital, the JFBC helps provide a non-hospital option for delivering babies, as well as support for gestating parents who want to explore home birth options.

“We take care of a smattering of people from Juneau and from outlying communities,” Grimes said. “Alaska has one of the highest rates of out-of-hospital births in the nation.”

For parents concerned about virus exposure or hoping to avoid straining hospital resources needed for handling the widespread epidemic that’s infected more than a million Americans, the JFBC might be a good option, said Jetta Whittaker, a member of the JFBC’s board.

The Juneau Family Health and Birth Center, April 28, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

The Juneau Family Health and Birth Center, April 28, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

“If there ever was a time for low-risk moms-to-be and supportive partners to consider having a home or center-based birth instead of heading to the hospital, this might be it,” Whittaker said in an email. “Moms-to-be who may be worried about being exposed to or contracting COVID in the hospital might consider having a home birth to keep the personal risk low while hunkered down at home.”

Grimes said JFVS typically take on their clients relatively early in the pregnancy to ensure the continuity of treatment. The JFBC usually oversees 4-6 births a month, with a ceiling of approximately 8 births a month. All of Juneau has roughly 350 births a year, Grimes said.

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“We have some increased capacity potential. There are two other midwives who practice outside of the hospital,” Grimes. “Our midwives in conjunction with other midwives practicing in Juneau have sat down and talked about what to do if there’s a big influx of births in the community.”

That flexibility could be an asset in unsettled times, Whittaker said.

“While most of the births attended by our midwives are at the birth center (and staff employ best practices for preparing and cleaning each birthing room and the entire center), our midwives also attend and love home births,” Whittaker said. “Of course, if there is a need to transport, that happens quickly and efficiently from either, as our midwives have established excellent communication pathways with Bartlett.”

Grimes was adamant about the parents doing what was right by their children for figuring out delivery options.

“It’s one of the last rituals we have, having a baby,” Grimes said. “We don’t have a lot of rituals left in the world.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or

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