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NMC hopes for more birth business
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Box: A fairly small percentage of Newton County residents choose to have their babies delivered at Newton Medical, but officials hope a newly-renovated BirthCare Center will lead to more business.

Year; number of births
2007 - 758
2008 - 710
2009 - 727 (NICU opened in February)
2010 - 778
2011 - 680 (construction affected numbers)

Birth care centers are often young women's and couples' first introduction to a hospital, and if the experience is a good one, a hospital can benefit from repeat business down the road.

Newton Medical Center celebrated the official grand opening Friday of its newly renovated BirthCare Center, which underwent a $2 million makeover.

Hospital officials hope an ever-increasing number of local residents will choose to have their children at Newton Medical instead of going to surrounding counties.

Patty Waller, director of maternal and infants services, said she hopes the new center will draw more than 1,000 pregnant women to Newton Medical this year, a number that would be a significant increase from the five-year average of 730 births per year.

Prior to early 2009, many residents choose to go to other hospitals because Newton Medical didn't have a neonatal intensive care unit, which meant that any high-risk pregnancies, anything from premature babies to twins, had to be handled elsewhere. Waller said around 10 percent of all pregnancies fell into this category.

However, in February 2009, Newton Medical opened its Level II NICU, which allows a hospital to care for most premature babies (32 weeks and above), and Waller said her hospital can handle about 98 percent of all pregnancies.

The most recent renovation was mostly about aesthetics (the BirthCare Center hadn't had one since 1993) and increased patient convenience, including more rooms.

After the renovation, the center now has:
- eight labor, delivery and recovery rooms
- eight postpartum and antepartum rooms
- two operating rooms
- one recovery room
- one nursery
- one NICU
- a three-bed triage room (for temporary, immediate care)

Staff offices, changing rooms and lounges were also renovated.

Waller said the increased facilities will improve patient flow and ensure that all patient rooms are behind the specially-secured area of the center. She said one goal of the increased patient rooms is to bypass the emergency room for pregnant women who can go directly to the center.

"We don't have all the Newton County residents coming, but we want as many as possible because this is their hospital. We want to make it a place where they want to come," Waller said, who said obstetrics is like a mini-hospital by itself, offering several services. "OB is one of those things that, unlike others, most places you go and pick your doctor and you go to whatever hospital your doctor goes to. In OB, a lot of mothers pick their hospital and then they find the doctor that goes to that hospital.

Waller said her predecessor did a study looking at total county birth certificate numbers compared to Newton Medical's deliveries and found that only 25 percent of all births were taking place at the local hospital. Waller didn't know if that was before or after the NICU opened, but in either case, Newton Medical wants to grab a much larger share of deliveries.

"The citizens of NC help with this hospital and my goal has been to make sure that we have the highest quality care and I think that we're giving excellent care. When you have a baby one of the fun things about it is to have your family and friends and to not have to drive to go there and to have it close to home. That's one of the most positive things about the NICU, and these parents are able to come up in the middle of the night or evening. If you're five minutes from home, it's a whole different thing from having to drive an hour," she said.

Despite the renovation, it may take some time for deliveries at Newton Medical to climb above 1,000 as births have generally been on the decline.

"We always say people don't plan pregnancies, but obviously they do to a certain extent, because we've found that now that we've gone down financially it's affected births all over," Waller said.

Waller said obstetrics is not a big revenue generator for the hospital, but it's importance comes in making a good impression on young families, who, if they have a good experience, will return for care in future years.

"The biggest advantage of an OB department is not necessarily to bring a large amount of revenue in, our goal is at least to break even and not lose the hospital money, but it is in capturing the business," Waller said.

Waller came from Rockdale County, which has also made its obstetrics department a priority, and does 1,300 births a year, nearly three times as many births as would be expected for a 137-bed hospital. Newton Medical is a 97-bed hospital and also does a higher number of births than would normally be expected. The BirthCare Center has 63 full-time and part-time employees.

"The philosophy of this unit is that it is a privilege to be with women during this time in their life. Having done OB for so many years, I know people remember their births," Waller said. "We carry a lot of responsibility."