Naked City

A woman's hospital ... in progress

After millions of dollars and nearly two years of planning toward the creation of a "hospital within a hospital" at Brackenridge, the city of Austin and the UT Medical Branch at Galveston will mark the opening of the new Austin Women's Hospital with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

It will be another month or so before the public facility begins accepting patients, said Mike Hill, executive director for UTMB hospitals and clinics. He said UTMB is still negotiating with the Austin Medical Education Programs, a Seton Healthcare Network affiliate whose doctors practice at Brackenridge. Their work will carry over to the new fifth-floor facility, where low-income women can obtain sterilizations and other forms of birth control, beginning in mid- to late February. The Catholic Church ordered Seton to discontinue such services at its hospitals, including the city-owned Brackenridge that Seton leases and operates.

Another delay in getting the hospital up and running involved the nationwide nursing shortage. It took two job fairs for UTMB to round up a sufficient number of nurses to staff the hospital. "We're very close to having our full complement of nurses now," Hill said. At press time, UTMB had hired 25 nurses toward its targeted staffing goal of 33.

One unresolved question is whether midwives will be allowed to practice at the Women's Hospital. Hill said the midwife issue has been discussed with doctors but that no decision has been made on whether midwife-attended deliveries will take place at the new facility. Both Brack and Seton canceled their midwife services in 2002, leaving Austin as the only major city in Texas without midwifery services in any hospital. Seton officials, however, are said to be exploring the idea of restoring the program at its hospitals.

The Austin chapter of Texans for Midwifery intends to keep pressing city and hospital officials. "While I am glad that UTMB is coming to Austin, I am disappointed that we do not yet have a solid commitment from them to offer midwifery care at the hospital," said chapter President Amy Chamberlain. "The city and UTMB know that Austin families want this at our public hospital, and I trust that they have the wisdom to use midwives, who would save taxpayer dollars while providing excellent care that people want. UTMB has given lip-service to the possibility, and I hope council members keep encouraging it."

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reproductive services, Austin Women's Hospital, Mike Hill, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, UTMB, midwives, Texans for Midwifery, Amy Chamberlain

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