At left, Laura Beck, RN, director of women’s services at Mercy Hospital, and Shawnie Hunt, RN, Family BirthPlace, are excited about improving women’s health and birthing experiences when the The Love Family Women’s Center opens.

story and photo by James Coburn, Staff Writer

Mercy Hospital is expanding to meet the needs of a growing metroplex. The Love Family Women’s Center is expected to be completed in the late fall of 2023 on the campus of Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City.
The last decade has brought a 34 percent increase in babies born at Mercy Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. The hospital delivered more than 4,000 infants annually last year, said Laura Beck, RN, director of women’s services. The $98 million women’s center will offer 73 patient rooms, increasing the capacity for deliveries by 40 percent.
The 175,000-square-foot, four-story building will feature an obstetrics emergency department (OED) for mothers, said Beck, in her ninth year with Mercy.
Mercy currently has a triage department that is set-up only as an extension of the labor department, run by nurses with obstetricians available when needed at the Family BirthPlace.
“It’s also going to be structured much like our ER to make for a quick nursing response. Currently we go down a hallway,” said Shawnie Hunt, RN, Family BirthPlace. “So, it will be high tech and upgraded for our moms who need an emergency response.”
Registered nurses who are midwives will collaborate with the input of obstetricians will Oklahoma’s first hospital-based low intervention birthing unit.
“It’s going to be the first of its kind in Oklahoma,” Beck continued. “It’s not going to be the first birthing center that we’ve had in Oklahoma, but it’s going to be the first one that we have in a hospital. There will be four birthing rooms. And, in there a mom can come who wants to have that natural childbirth experience.”
The mother may go home two hours after her delivery if she and her baby meet Mercy’s healthy guidelines. She and her baby will return to The Love Family Women’s Center in 24 hours for a “well baby and mom check-up,” Hunt said.
“The great thing about being in the hospital is should something happen, whether the mom isn’t progressing appropriately, or she feels it’s time for an epidural or time for a little bit higher care, we can just move her on up to the labor and delivery unit.”
The midwife would follow her to labor and delivery, followed by an obstetrician to make the delivery.
Hunt has returned to nursing school at Texas Tech to become a midwife. She will be working in the midwife department, Beck said.
The thought of empowering mothers to have a safe space when having a natural birth experience also motivates Hunt’s career. She loves having created bonds and making connections.
“I have been a labor nurse here for almost eight years,” Hunt said. “Watching how well our OB physicians do with our patients in allowing them to have a lot of autonomy that other hospitals don’t necessarily do all the time — that’s inspired me.”
Beck and Hunt also look forward to the three spacious Caesarean section suites on the first floor that will connect to the existing hospital. Postpartum rooms on the third floor will connect to the hospital via a skybridge. There will be a neonatal intensive care unit on the fifth floor of the women’s center.
A dedicated area for women of all ages will serve women recovering from surgeries, outpatient therapy services, and pelvic floor therapy. Also, a large conference center holding up to 150 people will host women’s support groups, classes focusing on childbirth, infant care, CPR and more. And the education room will accommodate 25 people.
“We’re going to have it built to expand lactation services, and seminars and educational classes,” Beck said.
The Family BirthPlace currently has about 170 coworkers, and expectations are to hire more staff. Beck said it’s amazing how the team works together. Respect for each other and the families and the moms who come to give birth is at the core of teamwork, Beck said. A huge goal for Beck will be to expand Mercy’s community outreach for women.
“Our African American community and our Native American Community’s mortality rates among them is astronomical when compared to what a white woman goes through,” Beck said. “And we have got to do a better job of bringing that to light in supporting those women, and supporting those communities, too.”
Mercy wants to make sure that all women in Oklahoma have the opportunity to have a healthy pregnancy, healthy birth, should they so choose.”
The Mercy team wants to give Oklahomans a lot of love with the best experience and healthiest outcomes possible, said Hunt, who has learned a lot about the fragility and enduring qualities of life.
“Especially in labor and delivery, you get to see life being born. But there are difficult times when you get to see life you anticipate or not happen at all,” Hunt said. “Some families celebrate life, but you also help families grieve a life that has been lost. A lot of us are moms here and we see that through our perspective, but also help our grieving patients.”
The building design is just the beginning of The Love Family Women’s Center. The women’s center will allow the services to flourish beyond the one floor of the Family BirthPlace.
There is a lot of need for women’s services in the state, Beck said. According to a 2020 ranking by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation for infant mortality rates.
“There’s something about Mercy, and I give it all to God,” Beck said. “We are always striving to improve.”