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A shower of babies

Spring Hill Regional Hospital's birthing unit is so popular it's setting records.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 6, 2001


SPRING HILL -- A bad hospital experience kept Jane Dust from having another baby for seven years.

"He wasn't planned, just for that reason," the Pasco County woman said, pointing to her sleeping newborn son, Braden, whose curled fists rested under his face last week at Spring Hill Regional Hospital.

But six-weeks pregnant with Braden, the 27-year-old Bayonet Point woman walked into Spring Hill Regional Hospital and quickly realized things would be different this time.

A nurse pulled her into one of the hospital's new spacious labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum suites (LDRPs) and reassured her about the care she would receive.

Dust decided right then that that's where she wanted to have her second child.

She is not alone.

Since opening its new LDRP unit in March 2000, Spring Hill Regional Hospital has seen its number and share of births in Hernando County skyrocket.

Braden Dust became baby No. 100 delivered during July alone. By Tuesday, the last day of the month, the hospital had seen a record 102 babies born. The previous monthly record was 90, in June.

"After going through this, I can see why people have 10 kids," Dust said from her hospital bed, adding quickly, "not that I'm going to."

Dust's wood-paneled room, outfitted with an entertainment center including television and VCR, was spacious enough for her husband, Ron, to spend the night on the pullout couch and for their children and relatives to lounge in front of the television.

Though the Dust family drove a few miles north from Pasco for Braden's birth, the increase in deliveries at Spring Hill Regional comes mostly from within Hernando County, hospital officials say.

Before the new units were opened last year, Spring Hill Regional accounted for 45 percent of births in the county. That has risen to 80 percent, said Jim Beatty, associate executive director at Spring Hill Regional.

Oak Hill had 25 births during July, down from 35 the same month last year. In fact, the number of births at Oak Hill has dropped during five of the first seven months of the year, compared to 2000. No babies are delivered at Brooksville Regional Hospital.

At the current rate, Spring Hill Regional is on track to deliver 950 babies this year, up from 825 in 2000, Beatty said.

Beatty credits more than the pullout couches, tables and chairs in the eight new LDRPs and two private postpartum rooms for patients having Caesarean sections -- an improvement from the previous three suites and two semi-private postpartum rooms.

The quality of the staff working in the $2.3-million addition is equally important, he said.

"The facility is a terrific facility, but if the staff is no good, people won't come here," Beatty said. "It isn't just because we have a new building."

Jennifer Wichers, 25, of Ridge Manor is ecstatic about her treatment at Spring Hill Regional. Doctors performed a Caesarian section on July 27, three-weeks premature, because her protein levels were dangerously high.

"I know all the nursing staff; I know all the cleaning ladies," Wichers said last week as she returned to the hospital to check on her baby, Nicholas Fisher. "They took good care of me."

Considering her history with high blood pressure, Wichers said she is reassured by Spring Hill Regional's future plans for a neonatal intensive care unit.

Plans call for a $2-million, 10-bed unit equipped to care for newborns who have lung ailments, infections and other complications.

With that, the hospital will be able to add another six LDRPs to help out with the busy delivery unit, Beatty said. Officials hope to break ground in early 2002 and open the unit in early 2003, he said.

The hospital will hire a neonatologist and hopes to establish a partnership with the University of South Florida which will allow USF medical students to work in the unit.

Spring Hill Regional's emphasis on birthing units will pay off in such a booming county, said Dr. Thomas Armbruster, an obstetrician and gynecologist who delivers most of his patients' babies at Spring Hill Regional, but who also works at Oak Hill.

"I definitely believe the future is in the bigger unit, and you can take care of the higher-risk patients without having to transport them 40 miles on a helicopter," Armbruster said.

Oak Hill Hospital has seven LDRPs, and most of them are also about 500 square feet -- roughly the same size as those at Spring Hill Regional, though some are a little larger and some a little smaller, said Oak Hill spokeswoman Nancy Levija.

Levija agreed that the drop in births at Oak Hill during the past year likely has something to do with the newness of the suites at Spring Hill Regional.

Oak Hill is not planning a neonatal intensive care unit in the future, she said.

"I don't think Hernando County needs two hospitals with (neonatal care)," she said.

While Spring Hill Regional focuses on the birthing units, Oak Hill's future lies elsewhere, she said.

Last month, Oak Hill announced plans that would double the size of its emergency room, with an additional 15,000 square feet of space, and a renovation of its existing 9,000-square-foot emergency room.

Spring Hill Regional also plans to launch an expanded emergency room. That project calls for a $6-million, 14,000-square-foot addition to the existing 7,000-square-foot unit.

Oak Hill also has been approved to start an open-heart surgery program. But state approval of that project has been challenged by Brooksville Regional Hospital, a sister hospital to Spring Hill Regional.

Content with its obstetrics unit, called the Baby Place, as it is, Oak Hill chooses to push ahead with its other projects, Levija said.

"Every hospital is going to have their priorities and focus," she said. "Oak Hill's is in the emergency department and open-heart surgery."

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