Delivering on health care

New hospital specializes in moms, babies


Herald Writer

A medical emergency so threatened her baby’s life that first-time mother Jennifer Honold was sent to the University of Washington’s medical center, where her newborn was delivered eight weeks premature and weighing just over two pounds.

Late last month, the infant was transferred to Providence Everett Medical Center where a team of neonatal nurses, those specializing in caring for high-risk infants, are overseeing her care.

The three specialty nurses, hired this year, represent the first step in one of the biggest health care projects to be undertaken in Snohomish County in decades.

The five story, $40 million Pavilion for Women and Children is being built on the Pacific Campus of Providence Everett Medical Center in collaboration with Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

With little more than a large excavation hole and concrete foundation to mark its progress, the public is still largely unaware of the wide-ranging services that will be available when it opens just over a year from now.

"There’s an understanding that something is happening," said Fran Wall, clinical director for family services, who is helping to oversee the project.

When she explains the project to local groups "they don’t understand the effect and large scope," she said. "It will make us the premier hospital in the county."c

The 141,000-square-foot building, which will be connected to the existing brick building on the Pacific Campus with a skybridge, will include:

  • A "level 3" intensive care unit that will include ventilator and other services for premature and other at-risk babies that now must be transferred to Children’s. It is expected to treat babies from hospitals as distant as Bellingham. It will be the only hospital in Island, Snohomish, Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties with this type of intensive care for newborns.

  • A two-floor birthing unit with 40 single rooms for normal deliveries, several suites for Cesarean section births and 22 rooms for high-risk births.

  • A new breast center for providing comprehensive services for screening and diagnosis of problems such as breast cancer.

    A collaboration with Children’s called unique in the state has already resulted in recruitment of three neonatal nurses with a fourth coming in January and hiring Children’s Dr. Craig Jackson, who teaches at the UW medical school, as the neonatal medical director.

    "This is a transition to an expanded level of care," said Dr. Sandy Melzer, Children’s vice president for regional services.

    If an unanticipated problem occurs in the delivery room or if a baby develops a breathing problem "there’s someone in-house who can be there right away," he said.

    Babies born younger than 36 weeks often don’t have the coordination to suck, swallow and breathe, and can lack proper lung development, explained Lisa Scott, a neonatal nurse who was recruited from Indiana.

    "Under the old model, someone has to be called out of bed to see the baby," Melzer said. With neonatal nurse practitioners on staff, "they can be there and make an assessment in five minutes: Does the baby need oxygen of a chest X-ray? Do we need to call a pediatrician or neonatologist?"

    Services for mothers with high-risk pregnancies, such as testing of amniotic fluid to detect severe birth defects, also will be available. "We’ll slowly advance to add more and more care up here so there’s less driving to Seattle," Wall said.

    Even representatives of competing hospitals say the facility will mark a significant upgrade in the level and types of care available locally.

    "Those services and the relationship with Children’s will only serve to benefit the patients of Snohomish County," said Mark Judy, chief executive of Monroe’s Valley General Hospital. Judy headed Everett’s General Hospital Medical Center prior to its merger with Providence Hospital in 1994.

    His only qualm: With the major upgrade in birthing facilities at the Everett hospital and a birthing center at Kirkland’s Evergreen Hospital Medical Center that has received national publicity, Monroe and other area community hospitals could get caught in "a marketing crossfire."

    While attention has been focused on the increased expertise that will be on-hand to deal with high-risk births and babies, the Everett hospital also is significantly upgrading its general birthing facilities.

    Plans call for a 61,000-square-foot labor and delivery unit, aimed at winning back some of the patients lost following the closure of the $2.25 million baby unit at the former Providence Hospital, which opened in 1990.

    With its bed-and-breakfast-like amenities, including sweeping views, a hot tub, and keeping the mother in the same room for labor and delivery, it earned a fierce patient loyalty.

    The hospital’s current more utilitarian facilities on its Colby Campus have not been able match either the ambiance or the patient allegiance.

    "It helps us gain market share that we’ve been losing," Wall said of the birth rooms in the new building.

    For all the expertise, money and amenities the project will offer, its success also will be measured in ways that can’t be charted, graphed, or documented.

    For the parents like the Honolds, whose at-risk newborns necessitate long-term hospital stays, there is some small comfort in knowing their baby is being cared for in Everett, much closer to their Camano Island home.

    Jennifer, who works as a cardiac nurse at the hospital, and her husband, Brandon, hope to take their baby home by early December.

    "The nurses are really alert to her and her cues …and aware of what the baby is doing," Mrs. Honold said of the care Madeline has received in the special care nursery.

    "They just know babies."

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