An Oregon-based midwife who violated a Washington criminal law by practicing without a license has been accused in Oregon of lying on several birth certificates, claiming to have delivered babies at her home in Oregon when the babies were born across the state line.
Sherry Dress, of Canyon City, Ore., was found to have violated a cease-and-desist order issued by Washington in 2013 by delivering babies in Walla Walla County and elsewhere in the state afterward.
Dress pleaded guilty May 25 in Walla Walla County District Court to practicing midwifery without a license, according to Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle.
The court imposed 364 days in jail, suspending all of them on condition Dress complete conditions of the judgement. Dress was fined $5,000, with $4,000 suspended, court costs of $243, and 24 months probation.
If Dress does not pay her fines on time or keep appointments with her probation officer, or if she commits similar violations, the suspended jail time will be imposed, Nagle said.
On Monday, Dress was charged by the Oregon Health Authority with lying on several birth certificates. Dress reported babies she delivered in Washington as having been born at her home in Canyon City at least five times, according to state officials.
Dress came to public attention through an Oct. 4, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin article about the death of a baby here.
The midwife was plying her trade in Washington in June 2015, two years after the state health officials told Dress to stop delivering babies here. In doing so, she attended Sarah Magill and Gabriel Marin as they approached the birth of their first child.
Baby Gabriel Marin, full term and weighing nearly nine pounds, died June 15 of last year before he was delivered at Walla Walla General Hospital by emergency surgery.
His death came after Magill had labored for more than 50 hours at the couple’s Birch Street apartment, most of that time under Dress’ direction.
Dress discouraged the couple from seeking outside help. When they did, she directed them to go to WWGH instead of the bigger Providence St. Mary Medical Center, which was several blocks closer to their home.
Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood said at the time he and others believed the infant would have lived if Dress had made different care decisions for Magill. The cause of Gabriel’s death was listed as prolonged labor with fetal hypoxia, or inadequate oxygen.
Other complications included the baby’s failure to descend through the mother’s pelvis during labor, plus too much carbon dioxide in his blood, according to the death certificate.
Although the midwife was not investigated for the baby’s death, the event tipped authorities to Dress’ continuing presence in Walla Walla and beyond.
After Gabriel died, Greenwood alerted law enforcement authorities to the situation. Problems included Dress’ failure to reveal to Magill and Marin she was working illegally in Washington, or that in 2008 she had been fined by Oregon $250 for continuing to treat a pregnant client deemed medically as at “absolute risk,” according to Oregon’s Health Licensing Agency.
As defined by Oregon law, absolute risk means that due to medical conditions the client is not a suitable candidate for an out-of-hospital birth.
Midwives are charged with assessing the appropriateness of home birth for each client, taking into account the condition of mother and fetus, Oregon law says.
Last fall, the Washington state Department of Health and Walla Walla Police Department began investigating Dress. Oregon health authorities did so, as well.
Working together, the agencies said they discovered Dress delivered a baby in Walla Walla as late as April of this year. She also filed Oregon birth certificates for three babies born in Walla Walla and two in Pasco in 2014 and 2015, certifying they’d been delivered at her address, 25198 Highway 395 S., Canyon City, Ore.
That 5,400-square-foot home on 97 timbered acres in Canyon City burned to the ground in the Canyon Creek Complex fire Aug. 14, 2015, according to news reports.
Giving wrong birth information to Oregon Vital Statistics violates standards of practice for midwives, and Dress’ behavior surrounding these births are five distinct and separate violations of professional conduct, according to a notice sent to Dress of intent to revoke her license and impose additional discipline.
Dress’ Direct Entry Midwifery license expired Sept. 30, 2015, and had not been renewed by Monday.
Oregon officials said this week that Dress misused her midwifery license. She is being fined $5,000 and must pay the cost of disciplinary proceedings, officials said.
Dress can request a hearing to contest the order within 30 days from when she received it. If she does not, the notice becomes the final order, officials said.
A call to Dress’ attorney in Portland was not returned.