June 9, 2010

Kate Wells and her husband, Michael, had taken advantage of the early check-in offer. So when they arrived early that Thursday in May, they could go right to their room. And what a big room it was! Enough space for three people, in fact, and loaded with amenities: plasma TV, extra-comfy bed, Wi-Fi, DVD and CD players.

The newest Westin Hotel? Actually, no. Welcome to the maternity wing of Saint Luke's North Hospital–Barry Road Campus.

“We have had patients ask us what time checkout was,” said Jane Courter, R.N., the hospital's Maternity Care Coordinator. And like the best hotels, “we rarely hear that anyone was unhappy,” she said.

The Wellses were certainly happy there. It's where their daughter, Olivia, made her debut later that afternoon.

Focus on caring

What the couple walked into was an LDRP room—Labor, Delivery, Recovery, Postpartum. It meant Wells would be able to stay right where she was during the entire birthing process.

“I loved being able to stay put and have everyone come to me,” she said. “It was much more restful not having to move.”

When Saint Luke's North Hospital-Barry Road Campus opened its doors 20 years ago, having LDRP maternity suites was part of the master plan. There was just one glitch.

“The suites were about a third of the size they are today,” said John Miller, the hospital's Director of Community Relations. “It was a challenge to get all the equipment you need for a new mom and baby into the room.”

Miller, who has been with the hospital since its inception, quickly gathered a focus group of moms who had delivered at Saint Luke's and elsewhere. Their input helped with the plans for enlarging the rooms. It also revealed another important aspect of the hospital's delivery experience.

“We discovered that the caliber of our staff more than offset the small rooms,” said Miller.

Low ratios

Courter has been a maternity nurse at Saint Luke's North Hospital for 13 years. Her tenure is typical: Many of the staff members have been there for years. They make it a priority to keep a low nurse-to-patient ratio.

“We usually have no more than three mom-and-baby couplets to one nurse,” said Courter. “That's lower than many hospitals.”

It's just the kind of math Wells needed.

“This was my first baby, and for nine months I worried about this delivery,” she said. “I felt so taken care of by the nurses—like I was their No. 1 priority. My labor nurse was very honest with me and checked on me constantly. What did I need? Did I want ice chips?”

While the Wellses waited for Olivia's arrival, they watched movies and then switched to a CD of soothing music that Michael had recorded for Kate's labor.

She literally did not have to leave her bed for Olivia's delivery.

The beds are designed specifically for the delivery process, so they're somewhat higher than regular beds and also break apart. (If she'd been having a cesarean, Wells would have recovered in a bed that was lower to the floor, which helps ease the pain of getting out of it.)

And yes, her husband had a bed, too—a roomy recliner that went all the way back for a full stretch.

Wells was also aware that Saint Luke's North Hospital had a NICU—a neonatal intensive care unit. It was reassuring for her, although she tried not to think about needing it.

“Our NICU is Level II,” Courter explained. “It means we can handle many of the issues that might come up, such as the baby needing oxygen, or an antibiotic IV, or phototherapy for jaundice.”

Happily, when Wells delivered her daughter at 3:25 that afternoon, Olivia needed none of those treatments. There was one problem, though.

“I wanted to nurse her, but it was very hard,” Wells said. “I was ready to give up, but the nurses wouldn't let me. They said, ‘We'll keep trying. You can do this.' ”

And she did.

No worries

Olivia's delivery was not the Wellses' first visit to Saint Luke's North Hospital. They had toured the unit a few months before. Moms-to-be can also meet with their maternity care coordinator, who teaches childbirth classes and tells new moms what to expect both when they deliver and when they take their special deliveries home.

Courter and the nurses keep in touch with their patients even after the patients leave the hospital.

“We make it a point to call all the new moms after they're home and check on them,” Courter said. “We ask them if they have any concerns that may have come up after they left, or if there's anything we'd shown them that they've forgotten.”

Her first week home, Wells received personal notes from all five of the nurses who cared for her. She also made a return visit to her lactation nurse. And the Wellses plan a return visit to the “baby hotel” in a couple years, as they grow their young family.

“My time there went by so fast,” said Wells, who teaches first graders just down the street from the hospital in the Park Hill school district. “It was wonderful.”

When she does return, she'll enjoy a new patient service that's now in place throughout Saint Luke's hospitals: cell phones for the nurses, so when patients ring, they'll connect directly to their nurse.

“Several of my friends had their babies at North, so I knew it would be a good experience,” Wells said. “Now I have this beautiful baby, thanks to help from the nurses. They took all the nine months of worry away for me.”