No baby has been delivered in Wabash since the birthing unit at Wabash County Hospital closed in 2004. Expectant mothers have instead traveled to Huntington, Marion and elsewhere to deliver their children for nearly a decade and a half.
The impact of losing the county’s sole birthing center is evident in the statistics: More than one-third of expectant mothers in the county are foregoing prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy, and nearly 25 percent of pregnant mothers are smoking during pregnancy, according to health indicators from 2015, the most recent data available.
Now that Parkview Wabash hospital is bringing prenatal and obstetrics care back when the new hospital opens in June, Parkview staff hope those indicators will start to improve.
“We’re going to see lots of babies born here,” said Ashli Pershing, Parkview Wabash’s birth planner and lactation consultant.
Pershing has been working with expectant mothers here since she joined the Parkview Wabash staff in April 2017. She says that prenatal education is essential for a healthy pregnancy, but many mothers here are foregoing prenatal checkups and classes.
“I think it’s going to take a good year of us having an OB doctor to really see those statistics change,” Pershing explained. “(Right now) it’s inconvenient for a mom to get to a doctor if she has low resources … If you’re a new mom here and you don’t have a car, or you work and you don’t have a ride from somebody, it’s very hard to get out of town. They’re just waiting until they really need sometime. So, hopefully we’ll see those numbers change.”
Pershing conducted an assessment of available resources to expectant and young mothers when she arrived here in 2017.
She’s identified three primary areas to improve prenatal care in Wabash, starting with encouraging more pregnant mothers to seek prenatal care during the first trimester. The others Pershing cited are lowering the number of mothers who smoke during pregnancy and increasing the number of mothers who breastfeed.
“There are so many positives to feeding your baby breast milk versus formula,” she said. “We’ve worked with WIC and started to see lactation patients here … Most moms who quit breastfeeding quit breastfeeding during the first week after delivery because they don’t have a support system.
“So, we’ve been able to have those moms come here (for pediatric weight checks) so they don’t have to go out of the community, have those weight checks, see me, do the lactation consult and keep them committed to breastfeeding.”
Pershing has also partnered with the Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition for a special “Baby and me, tobacco free” class that encourages women to stop smoking during and after pregnancy, which is associated with premature birth and a host of other health complications.
“The baby goes through withdrawal,” she said, “and maybe respiratory problems, asthma problems, all kinds of problems through life because of that smoking in pregnancy.”
Other prenatal classes are geared toward family members who will help with the baby after he or she is born.
For example, Pershing hosts a class for grandmothers whose daughters are now or will soon be breastfeeding a newborn. The purpose, she said, is to dispel myths and establish a support network so that new mothers choose to breastfeed.
The hospital recently hired an OB/GYN, Dr. Lin Lu, and is recruiting a third doctor who can deliver babies once the new hospital opens.
The birthing unit will be located on the second floor in a secure part of the new hospital. The units will be locked, and all newborn babies will wear ankle bracelets with an electronic key that matches a bracelet worn by their mother.
There will be two labor/delivery/recovery/postpartum (LDRP) rooms where mothers will spend their entire stay, from delivery to postpartum recovery. Two overflow rooms and triage room to prepare women for delivery will be included in the birthing unit for times when the unit gets busy.
The new hospital will have space to grow, too, which means the delivery area may expand in the future to meet demand.
“I was born here and when the birthing unit closed I though, ‘How sad, no one will ever be born in Wabash again,” Pershing said. That won’t be true for long.