Beloved OBGYN practice closes in Tacoma amid provider shortage

Hundreds of pregnant women need to find new doctors after a well-known and well-loved OB/GYN and midwife practice in Tacoma suddenly closed its doors.

The practice is called “BabyCatchers and Beyond” and has been operating for 20 years.  The closure comes as Dr. Phoebe Ho, the owner and founder, announced she is dealing with unexpected health issues.

“We are just heartbroken,” said Karin Peacock, a licensed midwife at the practice who has worked there for the past six years. “Anybody who knows Dr. Ho knows how dedicated she is to her patients, and how hard it was for her to have to prioritize her health and close BabyCatchers. And it’s such an abrupt way,” she said.

It means the practice is now rushing to place 235 pregnant moms with other providers at MultiCare and Franciscan Health.

“She touched a lot of people’s lives and touched a lot of people,” said Sasha Zahnd, a mom of five who had three of her kids delivered by Dr. Ho. She has also been working at the practice for the last year.

It comes as nationwide, there is a worsening shortage of OB/GYN providers, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also reported on fewer OB/GYN doctors entering the field.

Data from the CDC shows pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 people has been steadily increasing for decades, with a sharp uptick in the past few years.

It means BabyCatchers has been essential not just in Pierce County, but for much of the South Sound.

“BabyCatchers is central in the Tacoma-Lakewood community. We have patients coming as far away as Olympia and Gig Harbor and Kitsap, since they’re really challenged with finding providers,” Peacock said.

Teresa Westsik is a mom who had a hard time finding an OB/GYN in Kitsap County when she moved to Bremerton from Georgia at the end of 2021, while in her third trimester.

“The first doctor I called said their first available appointment was in March, and mind you my baby was due in February,” Westsik said. “I really wasn’t able to find anybody in town,” she said.

Westsik ended up getting care at the naval hospital in Bremerton, shortly before obstetrical services shut down there.

She says it’s surprising how challenging it was to find care – a situation that’s only gotten worse in Kitsap County since her challenges.

The Kitsap Public Health District says it is a big problem.

“We had this issue raised at a health board meeting recently, when we had testimony from local obstetricians who were really concerned things were approaching crisis levels,” said Dr. Gib Morrow, the public health officer for the Kitsap County.

State data shows Kitsap County has 47% fewer OB/GYN providers than Washington State overall, with about eight OBGYN providers per 100,000 people, compared to 15 per 100,000 people for Washington State.

Morrow that was in 2021, before several big providers closed and multiple private practice providers retired - meaning the situation is even more dire now.

“It really left the few remaining providers scrambling,” Morrow said.

Morrow says the shortage can impact maternal and baby outcomes, particularly for people who are already marginalized. Public Health is working to find solutions.

“Trying to identify ways of patching things together in the short term and developing a stronger work force for the long haul as well,’ Morrow said.

As for BabyCatchers, KIRO7 spoke with a mom 36-weeks pregnant off camera, in tears over the closing of the practice. She said she wasn’t sure yet who would be the doctor in her delivery room.

Employees say while the facility was a single practice, it had an outsized impact.

“Dr. Phoebe Ho delivers a baby a day pretty much and that’s one person,” Peacock said. “This has been a really special place,” she said.