New ERHC maternity unit delivers on form, function

ST. MARYS – Elk Regional Health Center's highly anticipated eight-bed maternity unit was revealed at an open house Tuesday in St. Marys. The new maternity unit, which cost approximately $1.7 million to complete, began July 2011 and is part of ERHC's $10.3 million construction and renovation project, which includes a new third floor with 42 new, private medical/surgical/pediatrics rooms with private baths in each; two new, centrally located nurses' stations to oversee each half of the medical/surgical/pediatrics unit; and a new 10-bed geriatric behavioral health unit. Maternity Unit Nurse Manager Sara Myers, RN, BSN, said the new maternity unit contains eight large, private patient rooms with their own bathrooms and showers, large windows, 32-inch flat-screen televisions, and storage space for personal items. There is room enough for family members and visitors, including a convertible sofa for sitting and lounging, and wireless access so that new parents can use their laptops and other media devices to watch movies during a longer labor and later upload those first photos and send them via email or post them to Facebook."The new unit was very carefully designed for the comfort, safety and well-being of our tiniest patients and their families. It's going to be a real pleasure to welcome babies into the world in such a beautiful new unit," Myers said. Addressing one of the issues with the previous unit, Myers noted that patients will particularly appreciate the privacy and comfort of having their own bathroom. "They (the rooms) all have their own showers. They're nice and roomy. You don't have to share a bathroom," Myers said. "There is no downgrade here. They're all top-notch rooms here." Four of the rooms are designed for labor, delivery, and recovery, and the other four are for gynecological patients. The four labor rooms are each equipped with a birthing tub for water birth or pain reduction-- certified Nurse Midwife Julie Szymanski has extensive experience with the birthing tubs and will be available to assist patients who desire a water birth or want to use the tubs to help manage pain. Myers said people from out-of-county areas like Clearfield and Punxsutawney have expressed interest in water births and will be traveling to Elk Regional. "We're the only facility in the area who do water births," Myers said. "It's her (the patient's) labor and we're here for the way she wants it." Rooms will also feature electronic fetal monitoring, the latest nurse call and infant abduction systems; and 3D/4D women's ultrasound technology. A "smart light" system allows physicians to use a wireless wand to focus overhead lights to different areas of the room when needed, rather than manually adjusting them. Myers said a computer by each bedside is a big plus for the new rooms because it allows nurses and other health care providers to more easily record important data into ERHC's electronic records system right on the spot for better accuracy and patient safety."It's really nice," Myers said. "There's no paper [to deal with]. The medical records people will love it because they don't have to read our chicken scratch anymore." Other features of the new unit are a new, up-to-date, nurse work station, a new nursery that can accommodate up to eight babies and is visible through a large window in a spacious waiting room, an isolation nursery, and an on-floor operating room that will be dedicated to performing emergency Caesarean sections. The new operating room is the largest at ERHC and can be accessed simply by moving the patient down the hall. Gregory P. Bauer, president and CEO of Elk Regional Health System, said while Elk Regional has kept up with the many changes in technology over the years, the patient rooms and adjacent spaces in the old Maternity Unit were "showing their age." "Our tiniest patients and their families were crowded into cramped rooms that must sometimes accommodate two patients. Our nurse work station was barely able to accommodate the technology our maternity nurses need," Bauer said, explaining that previously, maternity patients were housed in the health center's historic stone building, originally constructed in 1922, and also in the health center's 1958 building. He said when the 2001 expansion of ERHC took place, the ERHS Board of Directors expressed their commitment to an update of the maternity unit. "With the full support of our board, we began a $10.3 million building project in July 2011-- and less than a year later, here we are in our brand-new maternity unit," Bauer said. He said ERHC will "continue to invest in obstetric and gynecological services, and we are deeply committed to meeting the needs of mothers and babies in the region." "It's (maternity unit) the beginning of health care for a family," Bauer said. "It's the beginning of life and we want that experience to be wonderful." Elk Regional’s obstetrical and gynecological care team includes Steven Koch, M.D.; Wu Jan Lin, M.D.; Paulette Schreiber, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner; Szymanski; and a team of specially trained maternity unit nurses overseen by Myers. ERHS Board of Directors member Judy Trambley is a retired nurse who worked at area doctors' offices and was at Elk Regional for many years as a nursing supervisor. She said the new maternity unit looks "homey" and will also facilitate better patient care because of its equipment and layout.