Oh, baby! Hospitals posture for maternity market

LOVELAND – You’re dining in fine style with a candlelight dinner, a view of the sun setting behind the mountains and soothing music playing over the surround-sound system.

The nurse comes in to check your blood pressure…. Wait, what nurse?

This is not a restaurant or a hotel; this is the VIP suite at McKee Medical Center in Loveland. The hospital recently moved its family birthing center into new digs as part of the $40 million Legacy project. The suite, which is available to patients for an additional charge of $275 a day, fills the need for families who want an extra-special experience.

“The people that have been in here just love it, and look, it is just huge,´ said Glenda Skaggs, obstetrics nurse manager for the hospital.

The room also includes a plasma-screen television with DVD player, a floral arrangement, chef’s dinner for two and a limousine ride home for the entire family.

The family birthing center moved into its new home on May 3. The wing now offers 13 LDRP (labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum) rooms, four postpartum rooms for Caesarean-section patients and four triage rooms. The area also includes space to add four LDRP rooms and two postpartum rooms.

The trend toward hospitals allowing new mothers to labor, deliver and recover in one room, rather than transferring from place to place during childbirth, began in the 1980s. Labor, deliver and recovery rooms, also called birthing rooms, also allow family members to be present during the entire event. Such rooms are replacing the standard sterile hospital environment for low-risk deliveries nationwide.

Northern Colorado hospitals are including the latest creature comforts in their newly remodeled rooms. McKee, for example, has installed Jacuzzi tubs, hidden the necessary hospital equipment behind cabinets and added décor with a nature theme to all of their rooms.

Competition for maternity patients and the practitioners serving them in the area is encouraging the trend.

“Women choosing where they want to deliver is a really big issue,” Skaggs said. “They want the nice birthing rooms, they want the LDRPs, they want the Jacuzzi tubs. In today’s market it is a very important thing to have an up-to-date unit because women want nice places to deliver.”

McKee isn’t the only hospital in the area offering the all-in-one experience. Longmont United Hospital prides itself on its hotel atmosphere and on the idea that new moms don’t need to change rooms after delivery. The hospital has 19 LDRP rooms, four C-section and two operating rooms.

“The best way to describe our birth place is through the service we provide to patients,´ said Matt Hartzler, director of strategic planning and marketing. “Our environment is very hotel-like with hardwood floors, Jacuzzi tubs … once you come in you have everything in one room.”

The hospital allows patients to have visitors at all hours, depending on the patient’s wishes.

“We want the families to be a part of the process to, so we offer a spare bed in the room for overnight visits,” he said.

Competition increasing in 2007

Sometimes the choice of hospital is limited by geography. But when Poudre Valley Health System opens Medical Center of the Rockies in February 2007, Northern Colorado will soon have four hospitals for patients to choose from.

North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley will open the first phase of its new maternity service in November. The expansion is part of the hospital’s $120 million Second Century project.

The hospital is adding two birthing rooms, bringing its total to 10, and seven new postpartum rooms for a total of 22.

“Until this opens we have 15 postpartum rooms and we frequently have backups for those rooms,´ said Judie Walker, director, women and children’s services for NCMC. The Monfort Birthing Center was built in 1992 and was designed for up to 2,000 births per year. In 2004, the center welcomed almost 2,500 babies.

“The new rooms will cover up the ‘scary stuff’ and place it all behind a wood headwall,” Walker said. “The rooms will also have Jacuzzi tubs out in the middle of the rooms.”

She said she doesn’t see many Greeley patients “shopping” for their birthing experience, adding that people who live in the outlying areas are more likely to be looking.

“Our focus is on providing patients with quality care in a safe environment,” she said.

In Fort Collins, Poudre Valley Hospital delivers 92 percent of all babies born to residents of Fort Collins. The hospital recently spent $12.6 million remodeling its birthing center with 12 birthing rooms, two operating rooms, two triage rooms and a two-bay recovery room.

In its women’s care wing, the hospital has 21 recovery rooms and can send additional patients to its pediatrics-plus wing if space demands.

The birthing center allows patients to deliver in large rooms with spa-like bathrooms. The rooms were also developed to hide medical equipment until it is needed.

“As we designed the rooms we really looked at input from our families … we asked them what they wanted in terms of care and rooms, not so much what we thought they wanted,´ said Pat Bohling-Smith, director of women and family services for PVH. Medical Center of the Rockies opens in 2007, low-risk patients will have a choice of four birthing rooms or two operating rooms and 10 postpartum rooms.