Omaha's skyline appeared tiny from the fifth floor of Methodist Women's Hospital, not that Stacey and Mike Flohr noticed or cared.
“Oh, he's perfect, yeah,” Stacey said of Carson. “I will tell you what. I have had the best nurses ever.”
“I will tell you what. I have had the best nurses ever.”
Those are sweet words to those running the hospital, which opened two years ago at 192nd Street and West Dodge Road, on the west edge of Omaha.
Methodist administrators gambled that Omaha's westward growth and a sparkling new hospital would enable them to retain a huge chunk of the crucial baby-delivery business, a specialty they had dominated for years at Methodist Hospital in central Omaha.
The move came at a time of growing competition for the profitable business. Two other area hospitals, Lakeside and the Bellevue Medical Center, also have opened and begun delivering babies within the past eight years.
So confident were Methodist leaders that they moved all labor and delivery from Methodist Hospital to their new hospital out west. The results so far appear to be mixed.
Methodist administrators say community awareness of the women's hospital is rapidly growing, that they are ahead of budget this year and that they are pleased with how their new hospital is performing.
The total occupancy rate for Methodist Women's Hospital was 48.6 percent the first half of this year, however, compared with 62 percent at Methodist Hospital.
Methodist's primary rival in labor and delivery, Bergan Mercy Medical Center, continues to close the gap. Bergan Mercy had only 128 fewer deliveries than Methodist Women's Hospital in 2011, narrowing the gap from the previous year and continuing a decadelong advance. Twelve years ago Bergan performed 1,083 fewer deliveries than Methodist.
“I would say it's extremely competitive,” said Sue Korth, Methodist Women's Hospital's vice president and chief operating officer.
Bergan also has expanded and improved its facilities, building new suites and areas for mothers and babies 2½ years ago.
Bergan is the Alegent Creighton hub hospital for high-risk pregnancies, said Lisa Strasheim, an administrator for women's and children's care, and has a reputation for serving mothers and babies well.
“Bergan's been doing deliveries for a long time,” Strasheim said.
The experience the mother has at a hospital can produce patients for years to come.
“Look at the number of people who walk into a hospital to see a newborn baby,” said Dr. Todd Pankratz, a Hastings, Neb., obstetrician-gynecologist and treasurer of the Nebraska Medical Association. “I've walked into rooms and there's 10 people there.”
If a mother has a great experience giving birth, that can mean business for a hospital, system of hospitals or physicians group from not only that family, but friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.
Another reason for intense competition has developed nationwide.
“Births are down in the United States overall,” said Dr. George Macones, a St. Louis physician who is chairman of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology's committee on obstetric practice. “So I would imagine there's a little more competition.”
Douglas County's birthrate — births per 1,000 population — fell in 2011 and 2010 to its lowest point since 1999. But because of population growth, the total number of births at Douglas and Sarpy County hospitals grew from 10,693 in 2000 to 12,320 in 2011.
Methodist Health System, which retains its central Omaha hospital and also oversees Jennie Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs, pumped $120 million into Methodist Women's Hospital.
The hospital provides a variety of other services, including emergency care for men, women and children; various forms of imaging such as CT and MRI scans; and outpatient lab work. The bulk of its business, though, is labor and delivery.
Appealing to mothers also benefits a hospital because women typically make the family decisions when it comes to health care, Korth said.
Lisa McClane, executive director for women's and children's services at the Nebraska Medical Center, said determining where a baby will be born frequently is a joint decision between a woman and her doctor if the physician has privileges at more than one hospital. Further, she said, some women will select an obstetrician based on where that doctor delivers babies.
But Macones said it's increasingly common for obstetricians to be employed by a hospital or system. If a physician isn't directly tied to a hospital, Macones said, he will look for a hospital that is close to his practice and that has excellent services and amenities.
Methodist Health System lost at least nine obstetricians with the move out west, Korth said, because they didn't want to drive that far. But five of those have decided to return and deliver at Methodist Women's Hospital, she said.
Macones said the competitiveness of labor and delivery varies from area to area. Some hospitals have stopped offering that service because of malpractice concerns, he said.
But in the Omaha area, more hospitals are performing labor and delivery. Lakeside, affiliated with Alegent Creighton, opened in 2004 and Bellevue Medical Center, tied to the Nebraska Medical Center, opened two years ago.
Lakeside, in west Omaha, delivered more than 1,100 babies last year and has become a big player in labor and delivery.
The Nebraska Medical Center's role in deliveries has declined over time. It did 1,894 deliveries in 2011, down from 2,436 just seven years ago.
The medical center's McClane said her hospital's own affiliate, Bellevue Medical Center, has taken some business, which was expected. Bellevue performed 606 deliveries in 2011.
McClane said the Nebraska Medical Center is “a one-stop shop” for high-risk pregnancies, sick mothers and struggling newborns. The medical center will spend between $6 million and $7 million to renovate areas for high-risk pregnancies, suites where cesarean sections will be done, and other areas. They should be available next spring.
“It's going to be lovely,” she said. “We can hardly wait.”
At Methodist Women's Hospital, administrators point to survey results done in December 2010 and June 2012 that indicate more and more people call it the first Omaha hospital that comes to mind when women's services are mentioned.
Administrators say that if the hospital provides fine care, the numbers will take care of themselves.
“I want people to understand that we're the experts in the city,” Korth said. “We take care of women.”
Stacey and Mike Flohr loved the hospital and the attention they received. Carson's birth actually gave them a scare. Before he was born, his heart rate dipped during contractions. A physician had to perform a cesarean section, and found the umbilical cord wrapped around Carson's neck.
Carson came out fine.
“Things got a little rough and rugged,” the mother said, “but in the end, everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”
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