Virginia is lying on her back in a hospital gown, about to have her second baby. She’s 39 weeks pregnant, explains Melissa Seibert, inpatient services director at Cloquet Community Memorial Hospital. And she couldn’t make it to Duluth hospital because she thinks she’s gonna have her baby sooner.
Virginia doesn’t have anything to add to the conversation – because she isn’t a person.
She’s a life-like birth simulator that can replicate a wide range of birth scenarios from a cesarean section to a high-risk breech birth. The teaching tool is meant to address a vexing, vicious cycle in rural health care, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
As young people leave small communities for urban areas, fewer babies are born. And that means there are fewer opportunities for doctors, nurses and other practitioners to keep up on the basic and essential skills needed to deliver babies.
And when that happens, hospitals sometimes stop delivering babies altogether, says Dr. Charles Kendall, who has been in family medicine at the Cloquet hospital for nearly three decades.
“A lot of doctors have given up (obstetrics), either because they retired or they don’t want to do OB, or they don’t want the risk involved,” he said. “That’s really put a crunch on the rural hospitals.”
Seibert monitors Virginia’s vitals on an iPad — heart rate, blood pressure and information about the baby — as she coaches nursing student Kasey Enerson through a normal vaginal birth.
A piston inside Virginia pushes the baby down the birth canal.
“And then when you want to actually help deliver the baby, you’re gonna put your fingers under the shoulders, and help the baby out,” she instructs Enerson.
The simulator is being used by a wide-range of practitioners from nursing students like Enerson to staff who already work at the Cloquet hospital and don’t have much practice in high-risk deliveries.
What we don’t have are a lot of moms that are going to hemorrhage. We don’t have a lot of moms that come in with preeclampsia,” said Seibert.
The simulator allows staff to recreate these scenarios. “Once they do this more and more, they become better at it,” she said.
Among the hundreds of babies Kendall has delivered, he’s seen few emergency situations — and being out of practice can make doctors nervous.
“You just don’t get a chance to practice those or do those. And so that makes docs — any docs, but especially docs in rural areas – nervous about wanting to do it at all,” he said.
By the numbers, it’s becoming less and less likely that Kendall and his colleagues will be involved in high-risk deliveries in the future.