Renderings of the new birthing suites opening at Tucson Medical Center. The new center will offer water births — a first for TMC.

A new in-hospital birthing unit with two delivery rooms will open in early July on the Tucson Medical Center campus, El Rio Health, in partnership with TMC for Women, announced Tuesday.

The move means El Rio Birth & Women’s Center will stop delivering children after nearly 40 years as the region’s only free-standing birth center.

The new TMC Midwifery Center will provide a midwife-attended, family-centered experience for women who are low risk and want to have a natural, unmedicated birth, a news release said.

The Midwifery Center will offer many of the same options the free-standing center did, such as water births, minimal interventions and support for the normal birthing process. Families will also continue to be discharged four to 12 hours after the baby is born.

El Rio midwives will attend the births at TMC, and women will have a choice between birthing in the Labor and Delivery Department or in the Midwifery Center.

“We have been longtime partners with El Rio, and their midwives have practiced here for decades, so as partners we talked about ways to expand our collaboration, building on strengths of both institutions,” said Mimi Coomler, chief operating officer of TMC HealthCare.

Because of the long relationship between El Rio Health and Tucson Medical Center, Olga Ryan, health center manager at the birth center, said she is hopeful that the move will be a good thing for Tucson.

“We’ve been at TMC for 40 years,” Ryan says. “If a woman came to us in the beginning of pregnancy and there was some risk factor that made her higher risk, we’d say we can take care of you, but we’re going to offer a hospital birth. People had to be pretty healthy and boring to birth at the birth center. ... So the midwife has always felt pretty good about the model of care at TMC.”

Midwives deliver 75 percent of El Rio Birth Center babies at TMC, so it made sense to add the other 25 percent, Coomler said.

The new center will have two birthing suites. TMC anticipates that’s enough to handle the need, though the current El Rio Birth & Women’s Health Center has four delivery rooms. If both suites are in use, a laboring woman would be placed in a hospital room, but would have the same low-intervention services and be delivered by a midwife nurse.

The Midwifery Center will operate much like the free-standing center, providing less monitoring, allowing for food and other services, Coomler said. It will also offer water births, a new service for TMC.

For now, the El Rio Birth & Women’s Center will remain open at its current Grant Road location about a half-mile east of TMC and will provide all current services except births.

Those services include prenatal and postnatal care, well-woman visits, as well as the free mom and baby groups.

There are no plans to close the El Rio Birth & Women’s Health Center and nothing has been decided as far as renewing or moving in June 2020 when the lease is up, Nathan Holaway, El Rio Health’s marketing coordinator, said in an email.

Keeping the mom and baby group alive is a big concern for birth-center mom Rebecca Kruchten, who received her prenatal and postnatal care for her now 9-month-old baby at the center.

She continues to go to the Baby Love group every Tuesday and says she met two of her best friends there.

“That group saved my sanity,” Kruchten says. “You get to not feel so alone. Raising a baby can be very isolating because you don’t have the village or the women at home helping you. You need to get out and meet other people going through it with you.”

Coomler said TMC and El Rio are talking about how to support and expand those programs onto the TMC campus. TMC currently offers labor and delivery education, as well as lactation support.

Ryan, the birth center manager, said the potential loss of the free-standing facility is hard to take.

“Ultimately if we can demonstrate women are interested in having this model of care, maybe other hospitals will want to do it, too, and that could be a wonderful thing,” Ryan says. “But there is this sense of loss and grief about this place.”

Regardless of the fate of the center, Ryan says she thinks even more options will be available for women in the near future.

“There is an informal group working and sharing and talking and looking at real estate,” Ryan says. “So I think it’s very likely we’ll have another free-standing birth center in the next year.”

“We have been longtime partners with El Rio, and their midwives have practiced here for decades, so as partners we talked about ways to expand our collaboration, building on strengths of both institutions.” Mimi Coomler, chief operating officer, TMC HealthCare

Contact Angela Pittenger at 573-4137 or apitteng@tucson.com.