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Healthy Monday: Womens pavilion ready for deliveries
Brian Varnes shows registered nurse Jennifer Briscoe the operation of a new birthing bed at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The bed is part of the new equipment in the Women & Children’s Pavilion that will open soon. Varnes represents Hill-Rom, the company that makes the bed. - photo by Tom Reed


Pat Allen and Melissa Tymchuk describe the hospital’s new NICU.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s long-awaited new maternity unit will open for business Nov. 5. But before then, there will be plenty of celebrating.

Tuesday evening, physicians, board members and donors will get their first look inside the $50 million Women & Children’s Pavilion, located just west of the hospital’s original main entrance.

Then from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, there will be a public open house to give everyone a chance to tour the new facility.

Workers spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on the interior, moving in furniture and artwork.

"We’re kind of doing the last-minute dance," said Pat Allen, director of women and children’s services.

The biggest logistical challenge comes on Nov. 5, when patients in the existing women and children’s department will be moved into the new, two-story addition.

"The NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) will be the first to move," said Allen.

Though the babies are too young to appreciate it, their new digs are luxurious compared to the old facility. Most of the beds in the current NICU are in one big room, where visiting parents are almost bumping elbows with each other and they have no privacy.

The new NICU gives each patient a spacious, individual room, and the number of beds has doubled from 13 to 26.

"The space is about three times larger than what they’re currently working in," said Allen.

After the babies are moved in, the mothers will be transferred, unless they’re in active labor. After the existing obstetrics unit is vacated, the old rooms will be renovated to bring them up to the same standards as the new facility.

The Pavilion includes 18 labor-delivery-recovery rooms, eight prep and exam rooms, four surgical suites for caesarean sections, and eight antepartum rooms for high-risk mothers who are on monitored bed rest to prevent preterm labor.

Much attention was given to the little details that can make a family’s stay more comfortable. For
example, every room has a window, a flat-screen television, and a place for the father to sleep.

Jim Gardner, chief executive officer of Northeast Georgia Health System, said such details matter when it comes to obstetrics patients, who usually decide in advance which hospital they want to use for their baby’s birth.

"We want Gainesville to be a destination for obstetrics and women’s services," he said. "We delivered 4,000 babies last year, but statistically, there are about 7,000 deliveries in our service area."

The Pavilion will have the capacity to handle 7,000 births a year, and Gardner wants to capture some of that untapped potential.

He believes many expectant mothers will choose Northeast Georgia Medical Center once they get a chance to tour the new Pavilion. In recent years, some parents have chosen to deliver their babies outside of Hall County because they perceived the medical center as being crowded and a bit outdated.

"The thing about this project that excites me is that we’re finally going to have facilities equal to the caliber of the physicians and nurses who work here," Gardner said. "They deserve it."

At Tuesday’s invitation-only event, Gardner will recognize donors who helped make the project a reality. The Jim Syfan Family Foundation contributed $1 million toward the NICU; Richard and Phyllis Leet provided sculpture art for the lobby and waiting room; and the Medical Center Auxiliary gave $250,000 for a 50-seat conference room.

Gardner believes the Pavilion could transform local obstetrics services in the same way that the hospital’s Ronnie Green Heart Center transformed cardiac services.

"It’s exciting to know we’re positioned well for the future," he said.

The hospital is bringing in some well-known Georgians to help celebrate the grand opening. At Sunday’s event, Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal are all scheduled to speak.

"They’ve all had children or grandchildren who were born here," said hospital spokeswoman Melissa Tymchuk.

The medical center has been delivering babies since 1951, when it was the old Hall County Hospital. At Sunday’s open house, anybody who was born there will be given an identifying sticker to wear.

Sunday will also mark the debut of the hospital’s 2009 "No Two Are the Same" baby calendar. Parents of more than 200 children born at the medical center submitted photos for a contest, and 13 babies were chosen as calendar models.

The free calendars will be distributed at the open house, Tymchuk said.

Following remarks by Perdue and others, visitors will have the opportunity to tour the Pavilion Sunday.

Greg Syfan, whose family made the NICU donation, already had a chance to walk through the facility, and he was overwhelmed by what he saw.

"Oh my gosh, it’s fabulous, better than I would have dreamed of," he said. "The difference (between this and the old NICU) is like night and day."

Syfan said the NICU staff have always been competent and caring, despite their cramped surroundings.

"They are miracle workers," he said. "But this new place will make it easier for them to do their jobs."

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