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Baby business is booming at local hospital

Monday, July 11, 2011

The day shift at the Cox Monett Hospital obstetrics unit stands in front of the Wall of Miracles where births are commemorated. Shown, from left, are: nurses Amanda Cline, Sarah Elbert, Mendy Russo, Donna Lake and Karen Haskins. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff] [Order this photo]
Ten years have passed since the reopening of the obstetrics unit at Cox Monett Hospital. The anniversary is being marked with a special celebration at the hospital later this month.

As of June 30, 3,304 babies have been delivered at the Monett hospital since the unit reopened. The occasion offered a chance to reflect on bringing back a widely desired service.

"We knew we had community support from the beginning," said Janell Patton, director of community services for Cox Monett. "The overwhelming public response at the time was bring babies back."

The arrangement continues to prove popular. With family friendly care and private rooms, mothers from as far away as Marshfield and Branson have come to Monett to have their babies. Honors for the farthest traveled mother go to a missionary to Africa who was in the area when it came time to give birth.

The number of physicians at the hospital has made the biggest difference in the baby count. In the first six months, when the hospital had three doctors delivering, 91 babies were born. When Dr. Allison Heider joined doctors Bob Bazley, Bobby Pittman and Ambur Economou, more than 400 babies a year were born in Monett from 2004 through 2007.

Last year, the total was 267, and a little over half that number was delivered in the first part of 2011. Dr. Elizabeth Lucore will be joining Dr. Matt Green and Dr. Ronda Azelton in September. Their practice is accepting new patients. The numbers are expected to rise again.

"Lots of organizations are looking for physicians now," Patton said. "It's a matter of finding the right one that fits our organization."

Donna Lake, registered nurse and director of the special delivery unit at Cox Monett, said there have been a few changes over the 10 years of service.

"I've grown with the job," Lake said. "I don't staff the floor as much myself. I've got staff to do that. We opened with 13 full-time staff. Now we've got 15 full-time, three part-time and five on-call."

Five of the original 13, counting the on-call staff, are still working in Monett.

Cox is certified through the Joint Commission. Cox Monett's certification has been renewed twice. The obstetrics program meets the A-1 standard under the Association of Women's Health and Obstetrical and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN).

The nurses have the same training requirements as those at Cox South and St. John's in Springfield and use the same monitoring systems. In the early years, Patton said, Monett nurses had to travel to other facilities to gain specific training. Lake is now an instructor in a number of the standards, such as neonatal resuscitation and preparing babies for transport under the STABLE (sugar, temperature, airway, blood pressure, lab work and emotional support for parents) standard.

Mendy Russo was a new obstetrics nurse when the program opened. As a program veteran now, Russo said the motto of the staff is "Be prepared for anything."

"I would stack our nurses against the best of them," Lake said. "We have the best staff, and our physicians are fantastic."

Constraints on opening the facility from the outset were determined by the space available on the hospital's third floor. The design proved most effective. When numbers were over 400, mothers and babies were moved to the second floor after delivery.

Two fetal monitors were added plus an infant warmer in the nursery in case of twins. Nurses and monitors stayed with those on the second floor at all times, in a locked section to maintain the same level of security.

The room for Caesarean deliveries was built where the Vincentian sisters, who ran the hospital before Cox purchased it, had their chapel. Russo said more than once the staff has felt the room particularly blessed for handling difficult births.

"The beauty of working in this organization is that as a matter came up, we dealt with it," Lake said. "The state said we had to have a nursery, so we do."

Some of the equipment now is being replaced, Patton said. Three new glider rockers were recently purchased by the hospital auxiliary. New mattress pads have been put on the beds. New mothers still get infant car seats.

Highlights over the years have included delivering three sets of twins in one week. The week when the unit had seven babies, a true full house, a photo was taken that still hangs on the unit wall. Next to it hangs a Johnson and Johnson Award for Nursing, won from a nomination made by one of the mothers.

Many moms have been repeat customers. Russo had all three of her children in Monett. It's not unusual for mothers to bring their children by later for the nurses to see.

"The nice thing in a small community is you get to see them grow up," Russo added.

In the next 10 years, Patton said she sees a new hospital ahead as Cox Monett moves closer to building on the site of the former Bryce Oaks golf range on Highway 60, north of Lowe's.

"In a new hospital, we can dream again," Patton said. "The OB unit will have bigger and more beds. It will be fun to plan again and see if we can hit the nail on the spot again."

Lake said she hopes for more space, which would help with issues like storage.

A reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the Cox Monett Hospital's obstetrics program is planned for Tuesday, July 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the hospital cafeteria. Mothers who have delivered in Monett will be welcome and encouraged to bring their children.

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