Picking a Birth Center Location
Having a home birth practice for years and ready to upgrade to a birth center? There are many benefits to having a birth center. There are few birth centers across the country. Women are actively looking for this type of midwifery place of birth. Home birth practices are easier to find. Many states only have a couple birth center. Hospitals aren’t even able to compete with the home like environment, personalized care, and water birth services.
There are many ways to go about looking into a birth center start up. You can lease to own a building that you customize to a birth center (cheapest option). You can buy a building and do construction. You can build what you want (most expensive option). I would discourage leasing without intention of buying building unless no major renovations have been done. If starting on a tight budget, do an inflatable tub and keep things simple (as long as state regulations along that option). Know your state rules. For a birth center to be run long term and successfully, years of planning and designing goes into the project.
I did start my birth center practice in a little over a year. That is not usual. Motivation and having a state with no birth center regulations really helped accelerate that process. Knowing your start up budget and operating costs really helps determine if lease, purchase, or build are available terms.
When search for a location, think about the community you want to serve and radius women will travel for a birth center experience. What are the competitors in your area? If there is a birth center within hour driving distance of you, what does your practice plan to offer different that current option? Unless that birth center is busting at the seams and having a huge waiting list, you will need to attract your competitors patients with a unique branding tactic.
How many women do you want to serve? If this will be a solo, smaller birth center practice, two birth rooms will probably be all that you need. If your needs are great in area and have a team of midwives ready to serve the cause, look for a building that can hold three to four birth room.
Will the birth center provide other services or sales of any kind? That area for classes, gift shop, collaborative practices like doula or lactation support will add need to be counted in square footage. A smaller practice with no additional services offered besides midwifery care should look for a building around 2,500 square foot.
You will be surprised how much space will be needed for storage, waiting area, resource library, exam room, birth rooms, emergency equipment, and mechanical room to hold large water heater needed for water births. A larger practice with other resources under one roof, like a co-op, will need around 8-10,000 sq ft space to work with.
Depending on area, this building could be one level or multiple levels. I encourage looking for a building one level. Many state regulations would require an elevator for emergency transport and everything to be handicap accessible. Make sure load bearing supports are checked where your tub will be located. It is easier for a tub to in a corner of the room for structural support.
Long term, building your perfect space with lots of time for planning is the best option. It costs the most initially, but maintenance will be lower long term. Newer buildings don’t break down very often. Hundred year old farm houses have their character, but also have the upkeep costs of outdated electrical and plumbing system. Your labor and renovation costs can really get expensive with older buildings.
You can rent an office space to see women while building is being renovated or constructed. Plan eight months in advance for promoting your birth center and starting to accept patients that will deliver exactly when ribbon cutting occurs. Spend lots of time driving by potential areas. What is the neighborhood like? What other businesses are around the birth center site? Having a family practice or pediatrician office next to your birth center is a GOLD MINE! Get to know the business owners and what their thoughts of midwifery and birth centers. If the doctor’s office across the street doesn’t care for mothers or babies and doesn’t support midwifery model of care, it will really make success harder in that area.
What patients will you attract from the location? If people don’t feel comfortable getting out after dark where you are looking, many birthing mothers won’t want to drive there in labor with family and friends. Are there lots of steps for laboring mothers to take? Is there adequate parking for her and family members to come to the birth center? Are there frequent jams getting to and from your birth center? Last thing we need is women delivering in car on highway stuck in traffic while trying to drive to you. Talk about bad publicity press!
What is the zoning like? Most states require a business to have a commercial building. There are times a residential property is on the zoning edge of commercial real estate. Talk with city and township zoning departments to find out if a special zoning permit can be applied for. The smaller the town, the easier getting special permits for unique birth center use is. With my small community birth center blocks from hospital just needed a letter from the mayor stating commercial zoning for this property would allow a birth center. Last thing anyone wants is to shut down from hospital competitors complaining that building isn’t zoned correctly. Anytime an offer is placed on a property, have real estate agent put on purchase offer contingent on zoning approval. This gives you an opportunity to get back your earnest deposit while completing due diligence.
Many permits take time for city committee meetings to get approved. Having a lease to own offer in place is easier for starting office visits while finding out if building is allowed to be your dream birth center. The initial costs for birth center is drastically cut with a lease to own contract with owner. When a property owner is motivated, there are many creative ways to start your business and cash flow while renovation of birth rooms is occurring.
There are lots of things to think about when starting a birth center practice. I can’t stress enough the importance of planning, prepping, consulting experts in the field, and creating a stellar business plan. The chances of your birth center staying around for generations will increase dramatically with taking the right steps in the beginning. Be part of the monumental change happening in area with birth centers opening across the country daily!