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Baby room boom: Lebanon hospital seeks birthing center expansion

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Lebanon’s hospital is seeking more room for more babies.

The maternity ward at Samaritan Lebanon Community hospital is set to nearly double in size after outgrowing its decades-old building, hospital CEO Marty Cahill said in a Thursday, Sept. 22 interview.

Prescribed upgrades include more wired ports in walls for medical equipment, soaking tubs for people in labor and space for larger obstetrician teams. Girod Birth Center was last remodeled in the early 1990s.

“It’s pretty dated,” Cahill said.

Known as "Bird Man,' Jeff Pearce drowned in the Willamette River on Sept. 2, just nine days after his 45th birthday.

Executives plan for a 13,200-square-foot renovation by the end of 2023 — an estimated $8 to $10 million addition to the southeastern edge of the 70-year-old hospital.

Girod Birthing Center will have more and larger rooms under modern size standards and an influx of people to central Linn County.

Kilgore said medical teams will have three dedicated birthing suits, five post-partum recovery rooms and three rooms that can serve either role for 11 total. The center has seven multiuse rooms now.

Dr. Frank Girod, the ward's namesake, practiced as a physician delivering babies at the hospital when it opened in 1952. At its last remodel, the center saw about 230 births each year.

By comparison, Girod Birth Center delivered about 320 babies in 2021, according to hospital staff, and more are expected each year.

Populations in Lebanon and Sweet Home were growing in the double digits for several years when the hospital renovated its emergency department in 2016. The hospital anticipates 8 to 11% growth in those cities in coming years.

Cahill said more growth means more babies, and more babies means the hospital needs more rooms.

“We need that additional space,” he said.

Nursing supervisor Kerry Kilgore said people in labor feel cozier in the natural tones, muted wood, and free-standing tubs visible in architects' illustrations.

"It really brings nature in," Kilgore said.

The ward will gain an entryway — patients no longer will have to walk past three other departments to get to the birthing center.

And nurses will fare better with contemporary vaulted ceilings, skylights and decorative wooden slats in common areas. They'll have designated break areas, too.

Their spaces now tend to be more diffuse than defined, Kilgore said.

The place where nurses and physicians dictate notes also is the staging area for food on the ward. And the nurses' break spot.

Nurses who can physically separate from their work at break time feel more rested, Kilgore said.

"Everybody benefits," she said.

Rooms where people give birth will be larger under the planned expansion, adding soaking tubs to rooms that don’t have one. Rooms are tapped out, Cahill said, with medical equipment taking up all available space and wall ports.

“We’re monitoring moms in ways we didn’t do 30 years ago,” Cahill said.

Oregon law requires labor and delivery rooms to provide four electrical outlets and two each medical air, oxygen and vacuum ports.

Plans also call for a larger operating room in the center for delivering babies by cesarean section.

“It’s small and undersized, especially in today’s standards,” Cahill said.

The hospital takes on students from the osteopathic medical school just to the west across Highway 20, Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, Northwest.

Student physicians work in all of the hospital’s clinics and departments, Cahill said. When they’re in the birthing center, a child delivery team can include an outside obstetrician/gynecologist, a hospital physician, a couple of nurses, and resident and student physician.

“The way they learn is hands-on — being involved,” Cahill said.

Samaritan submitted its proposed expansion to the Lebanon Planning Commission for administrative review. The city’s window for public comment on the proposal closes 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Cahill said the hospital wants to have its expansion “shovel-ready” in early 2023, but construction is pushed back while Samaritan awaits updated estimated prices for materials and labor.

The company broke ground Aug. 29 on an urgent care clinic in Sweet Home, where construction costs quickly outstripped estimates, Cahill said.

Door and window prices appear pinched by low supply, Cahill said. Prices likely will exceed the $10 million upward limit the hospital originally had planned for.

“We’ve shot past that with material shortages and labor,” Cahill said. “It’s not insignificant.”

Alex Powers (he/him) covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email Alex.Powers@lee.net.

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Alex Powers (he/him) reports business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. He studied sociology at University of Oregon where he earned a master’s degree in journalism. Alex probably is outdoors when he’s not behind a camera or notepad.

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