A plan the Huntsville Hospital Health System first announced in 2013 and modified in 2016 came to fruition Tuesday when it completed the move of all of its OB-GYN services in Decatur to the Decatur Morgan Hospital campus on Somerville Road.
“Everything for women’s health care is in one location,” said Marie Burgess, director of labor and delivery, who worked at the Decatur Morgan and Parkway campuses.
Two floors that were renovated as part of a $50 million investment the Huntsville Hospital system made in Decatur Morgan will provide obstetrics and gynecological services, and a third floor is where a team of OB-GYN physicians that work for the hospital will see patients.
“Women’s health care is a vital part of this community, and we’re committed to make sure women have access to the best care possible,” Decatur Morgan Hospital President Nat Richardson said.
Burgess said the renovated area has the newest equipment available, including a panda warmer system — used to monitor vitals and regulate the temperature of infants immediately after birth — and technology that allows doctors to monitor patients from their office or from home.
In addition to a modern nursery, the area has 11 labor and delivery rooms that are equipped with advanced technology and 49 employees to assure that every mother gets one-to-one care.
“Everything baby is on the fifth floor,” Burgess said.
Decatur Morgan, which is licensed for 273 beds and has been part of the Huntsville Hospital Health System since 2012, started talking about putting labor and delivery at the Decatur Morgan campus after Huntsville purchased Parkway Medical Center in 2013.
But in 2014 the hospital discovered that a planned $2.4 million renovation project at Decatur General, as the Somerville Road campus was then called, would have cost about $45 million, due to expenses in bringing the south wing up to code.
Instead of proceeding, officials stopped the project, closed 161 rooms and reopened Parkway as an inpatient hospital and housed labor and delivery at the Beltline Road facility.
The plan to move labor and delivery to the Decatur Morgan campus was still on the drawing board in 2016 when the hospital developed a five-year strategic plan. Instead of following the traditional method that included ideas coming from the top, Richardson formed focus groups that included community leaders, elected officials, patients, hospital staff and board members.
During the meetings, one of the common complaints was that women’s health care services in Decatur were too scattered.
Burgess understood patient complaints because she worked at both hospitals. Moving all of OB-GYN to the Decatur Morgan campus, however, required additional capital.
To make the move happen, Richardson presented the hospital’s plan three times to the Huntsville Health Care Authority Board — which oversees the Huntsville Hospital Health System — before the board voted to give Decatur General an additional $20 million to put women’s health care in one place.
The hospital faced another challenge in August 2018 when OBGYN Associates, which also severed ties with Decatur Morgan Hospital for the first time in October 2008 because of increased uncompensated care, gave notice that it would stop delivering babies at the hospital.
This was when Decatur Morgan started building its own OB-GYN team of five doctors.
Dr. Thomas Ray, who is medical director of women’s services for Decatur Morgan Women’s Healthcare, built the team, and the fifth doctor will join the staff in the summer of 2020. Ray, who has practiced in Decatur since 1988, is retiring in December.
Dr. Roxanne Beck, a Florence native and 2006 Mars Hill Bible School graduate, became the fourth member of the OB-GYN team last month. She earned her undergraduate degree in biomedical science from Auburn University, received her medical training at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Suwanee, Georgia, and completed her residency at the University Of Tennessee College Of Medicine at Chattanooga.
Burgess said the average years of experience in labor and delivery is about 20 years. She said 700 babies were delivered in Decatur in 2018 and the hospital is currently averaging about 40 deliveries per month.
She said she expects patient numbers to rise because of OB-GYN services being in the same building. In addition to having five doctors that provide obstetrics and gynecological services, Decatur Morgan has five pediatricians on staff.
“It’s been a long road, but women’s health care is in one place and in good shape in Decatur,” Burgess said.
Hospital official didn’t have any deliveries scheduled Tuesday but were ready if there was an unscheduled one. The first scheduled delivery is planned today.
It’s for twins.