Two new birth centers bring expanded care in Federal Way

Family Birth Center at St. Francis Hospital and the Federal Way Birth Center are available for local women.

Two new birthing centers in Federal Way are expanding innovative access to care.

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (VMFH) held a ribbon cutting on March 28 to celebrate their new Family Birth Center at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.

Separately, the Federal Way Birth Center (FWBC) became the first freestanding community birth center in the state of Washington to be owned and operated by a Black midwife when it opened in November 2023.

Both locations serve the needs of a city that is one of the “youngest demographics in all of our markets,” according to Dino Johnson, COO of St. Francis Hospital.

“When you have a young community, you obviously need a robust birthing center, and part of planning for the future is making sure St. Francis can meet that need,” Johnson said.

The Family Birth Center is part of a $20.5 million investment by VMFH to enhance maternal and neonatal care and increase overall hospital capacity.

The two locations serve community needs in different ways, but both emphasize the importance of serving a diverse and fast-growing community — and a focus on supporting the needs and desires of each individual in their care.

At St. Francis, they participate in the statewide initiative to use a “TeamBirth” approach. Instead of a game of telephone between the many individuals supporting the birthing parent, TeamBirth centers patients in all health care decisions made throughout labor, delivery and postpartum.

Kelle Dragich, regional director of Family Birth Centers for Virginia Mason and St. Anne, said this looks like getting everyone in the same room and “the patient is at the center of the conversation. We’re able to write it down and have that for the next huddle, information like what she wants, the preferences for the family. That’s what we’re really excited about.”

Dragich said that when it comes to serving Federal Way in particular, they focus on serving their diverse population, partially through how diverse their nursing staff is. This means “we’re able to tailor their care plans of what they want to meet their needs,” Dragich said. “I think that’s what sets us apart.”

Another program at St. Francis is the blue band initiative, which focuses on implementing practices to prevent maternal deaths from preeclampsia and hypertension by clearly identifying patients that may need more specialized care.

New additions at the Family Birth Center at St. Francis include five large birthing suites and 14 spacious postpartum/antepartum rooms, an operating room and a designated nutrition area to prepare meals, now all on the first floor of the hospital.

The Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is enhanced with new equipment to care for babies born as early as 32 weeks. Before, the lowest age they could serve was 34 weeks. Being able to care for the baby in-house means that family can be close by, rather than having to make trips to care centers in Seattle or Bellevue, which can be costly and inconvenient for families who are waiting for their new baby to come home. The NICU also has 24/7 support and coverage with Seattle Children’s, which is another way to make sure families can stay in Federal Way for care.

Federal Way Birth Center

The Federal Way Birth Center, 2319 SW 320th St., is not in a hospital. But once permitting is complete, it will have three birthing rooms. The overall mission of the center is to provide “comprehensive family centered pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum care,” and to “mentor aspiring midwives.”

Faisa Farole is the founder of the center and also started a nonprofit called Global Perinatal Services five years ago, which serves hundreds of families a year. The nonprofit provides doula and midwifery services and education around childbirth and lactation.

She shared about the birth center at a meeting of the Federal Way Black Collective in February.

One difference in the structure of care is that birthing parents in the Federal Way Birth Center model might go home sooner, but their midwife follows up with care at their home immediately after.

“This is something that’s very well accepted or well incorporated, just midwifery in general in the European countries. For us, this is still a new concept,” Farole said.

The birth center is also open to other licensed community midwives as well who want to bring their clients to come and birth at the birth center. Farole said “that’s where that the open model practice comes in… there’s so many amazing services that community based organizations are providing. I want to make that connection between my clients and the community as well.”

Another new program from the nonprofit that is provided at the birth center is their Easy Access clinic. The model was adapted from Jenny Joseph, who is another Black midwife, operating out of Florida who Farole said she “respects a lot.”

The Easy Access clinic model is that “people can come through and get comprehensive prenatal care, regardless of their ability to be insured,” or their documentation status. People can come in, “we do vitals, we listened to their baby,” and all the usual measurements and assessments. Then “if the person is wanting to get insurance, we can actually connect them to insurance carriers.”

The nonprofit and the birth center both come from founder Faisa Farole’s desire to continuously expand services and opportunity that she has experienced as lacking. When she began her solo midwifery practice 10 years ago, she said she was the only practicing Black midwife in the state at the time.

Black women in the United States are 2.6 times as likely to die during childbirth in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The reasons are complex, but systemic economic disparities and discrimination within the healthcare field are factors that have been shown to have deadly consequences.

Family Birth Center at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Photo provided by St. Francis Hospital

Family Birth Center at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Photo provided by St. Francis Hospital