Women's health services are moving to the forefront at Carroll County General Hospital.
By summer, the hospital will begin an 18-month renovation and expansion project on its obstetric unit, and plans call for the development of a resource center devoted to women's health concerns.
"There's a recognition that women may have unique needs not necessarily well-addressed in the standard health care system," said Linda Harder, Carroll County General's vice president of marketing.
Over the past several years, women's health issues have become a priority for health care institutions nationwide, she said.
"Women's health and obstetrics is especially important in an area like this with the growth in young families," Ms. Harder said.
The $2 million renovation of the obstetric ward centers on the single-room maternity care concept, which allows women to go through labor, delivery, recovery and post-partum follow-up in the same room.
"You don't have to be uprooted and wheeled through a hospital hallway right after you've given birth," said Dr. Karen Deweling, director of pediatrics at Carroll County General.
"More than the physical aspect, the women will have one set of nurses during their hospital stay. It's friendlier and better nursing care," she said.
The new obstetric unit will have 12 private LDRP rooms and two Caesarean section rooms. It also will have rooms for women with pregnancy-related complications.
"The obstetricians of the community felt there was a need for a change from basically an outdated unit to a state-of-the-art labor and delivery suite," said Dr. Jules Scherr, who chairs the hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department.
Although Dr. Scherr said that Carroll County General's maternity ward has up-to-date medical equipment, the unit hasn't been renovated since 1978.
Obstetricians said the hospital is losing patients to other medical facilities with more modern and aesthetically pleasing obstetric units.
"Patients want to go to other places with prettier scenery," Dr. Scherr said. "We feel the services we provide are top-notch and we want to enhance that by having a beautiful birthing suite."
The hospital is tentatively calling the new obstetric unit "The Family Birth Place."
"Obstetrical unit and maternity ward are old terms that carry a connotation of sickness," said Tricia Supik, the hospital's director of maternal and child nursing. "We want to emphasize that the birth process is family-centered, and that it's a healthy, normal thing to do."
Several Baltimore-area hospitals have upgraded their maternity wards over the past five to eight years, according to the Maryland Hospital Association. Most of these facilities have birthing rooms called LDRs or labor, delivery and recovery suites, in which the woman must still go to a separate unit for postpartum follow-up.
The hospital hopes to begin construction of the new obstetric unit by June with completion scheduled for the end of 1996. The new unit will be designed to handle at least 1,200 births each year. Last year, 850 babies were born at the hospital.
The LDRP rooms will be equipped with birthing beds and medical equipment to handle most of the complications that could arise during the birthing process. Each room will have a bathroom with a shower and a chair that folds out into a twin bed so fathers can rest.
Newborns will receive medical care in an infant care center in the LDRP rooms.
"The rooms will be soundproof, private, safe, comfortable places," said Celeste Phillips, a California-based consultant hired by Carroll County General to help plan and market the new obstetric unit.
"There should be no need for any woman to be moved to a delivery room because we'll have the capability to handle any emergency in the LDRP rooms," she said.
The Women's Resource Center is the second component of Carroll County General's new approach to women's services.
"The focus is on wellness, and there will be resources available for women to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families," Ms. Supik said.
The center will offer medical testing services and health-related programs, including mammography and bone density testing and classes on prenatal care and parent skills. The center staff also will work with local physicians to address topics such as premenstrual syndrome, menopause and women's mental health issues.
The hospital has not decided on a site for the Women's Resource Center, but is considering the first floor of the county health department.
The hospital bought the health department building last year.