About 250 people, including expectant mothers and spouses, got a sneak peek of the birthing center at Kaiser Permanente's Modesto hospital on Dale Road.
Many women with late September or early October due dates have wondered whether Kaiser Modesto Medical Center would be open when their labor pains begin. The hospital is scheduled to start admitting patients Oct. 1.
"It looks like it is equipped with everything," said Turlock resident Pam Sayo, one of the parents-to-be who attended the birthing center open house Thursday evening. "It's pretty impressive. Hopefully, it will make it less painful."
Shari and B.J. Bunton of Tracy said the rooms seemed large enough for family members who will want to coo over their little one. "We are pushing to have the first baby here," B.J. Bunton quipped.
The Modesto hospital was built to serve Kaiser's membership in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Since Kaiser and Memorial Medical Center ended their agreement in 2004, women covered by Kaiser insurance have given birth at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock or Dameron Hospital in Stockton, which have contracts with the Oakland-based nonprofit health system.
Sayo, who is pregnant with her second child, could have her baby at Emanuel but said she liked the birthing center at the Modesto hospital.
Kaiser officials said the center was designed to take care of moms and their newborns in style. It has six observation beds, 12 labor and delivery suites, 16 postpartum beds and private rooms so spouses can stay the night. Along with sleeping accommodations for mother and child, each postpartum room has a hideaway bed.
The hospital expects to accommodate 140 to 180 deliveries a month, said Naomi Newhouse, chairwoman of midwifery at Kaiser Northern California.
Newhouse has recruited a team of licensed nurse midwives to serve at the Modesto hospital and Kaiser's medical offices in Modesto and San Joaquin County. Seven midwives have signed on with Kaiser and four more are being recruited.
Women have the option of seeing a nurse midwife during pregnancy and having a midwife deliver their babies in the hospital, she said.
"As soon as they come into labor, the nurse midwife is there all the time," Newhouse said. "They evaluate you, monitor the baby and follow you through the labor and delivery. We also help them with breast feeding and postpartum care."
Nurse midwives are licensed to handle normal labor and deliveries. An in-house physician is called if the patient needs a Caesarean section or other procedures, Newhouse said.
Kaiser Permanente has nurse midwives at 10 hospitals in Northern California. As a sign of their growing acceptance, some medical groups in Modesto have nurse midwives providing care for pregnant women.
"Nurse midwives are OK as long as they know their limitations," said Harvey Palitz, an obstetrician in Modesto.
It seemed that most of the women at Thursday's open house had an obstetrician, because the Kaiser program is new to the Modesto area.
"I didn't know it was available," said Tina Nixon of Man- teca. "I'll look into it now that I know."
Mondeep Khaira of Ceres said she was seriously considering it, because of the personal touch and the tradition of midwives as advocates for women.
After the Modesto hospital opens, Kaiser patients still will have the option of using the birthing centers at Emanuel and Dameron. Kaiser officials said they should talk with their physicians about their preference.
The Modesto center will be convenient for Modesto women.
"I liked everything because the rooms are really big," said Anita Gonzalez of Modesto. "When I have the baby, the baby and me can stay in the room together."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2321.