Tammy Villard would like nothing more than to have her children's birth certificates say they were born in Craig. But the mother of 2-week-old Emma and 2-year-old Allie doesn't think local services can match the care and positive experiences she's received from doctors at the Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.
Ironically, Villard's sister-in-law, Melody Villard, never would dream of having her children at the hospital 40 miles to the east for similar reasons. Melody says she couldn't be happier with staff and care at Craig's Memorial Hospital. It's where she delivered Kelton, 4, and 16-month-old Chloe. Melody is expected to deliver her third child at TMH at beginning of the year.
"I don't think there's any reason not to go here," Melody said of TMH. "I've had some risks involved with my pregnancies, and I'm just plum happy with them here."
But officials at TMH hope that more moms-to-be will choose to have their babies locally. And they're adding qualified staff and equipment to the obstetrics program to try to lure back patients.
According to the numbers, TMH deliveries have dipped for at least the past couple of years, since the new Yampa Valley Medical Center was built in 1999. The Steamboat facility features a Level 2 nursery and least a staff of four physicians who specialize in both obstetrics and gynecology.
According to the Yampa Valley Indicators Project, as many as 178 children were born in Moffat County in 2000. But TMH's birth statistics for the past two years are bleak. In 2003, TMH reported 99 deliveries. Through the end of October, the hospital reported 70 deliveries in 2004, which are 29 less than last year.
TMH Public Relations Director Pam Thompson said the trend is frustrating. According to a hospital survey, nine out of 10 patients want treatment from a doctor who specializes in gynecology and obstetrics. TMH didn't have a doctor who meet those qualifications until Dr. Michael Crane was hired in July 2003.
TMH board members recently approved Crane to practice obstetrics and continue to offer gynecologic services.
A 'personal choice'
Jamie Trevenen really likes her doctor, Andre Huffmire. The Craig mom recently had her second child at The Memorial Hospital where her husband's cousin, Maureen Wilkey, is a nurse.
Wilkey was on duty when Trevenen was in labor with her son, Ian, now 7 weeks old. She said she cherished the experience of being able to be helped by family during delivery.
"It was really important for me to have my baby here," Trevenen said. "I was born here and my mom was, too. Everybody has always treated us very well."
Wilkey said it's often a personal choice for mothers-to-be for choosing a physician. And often mothers will stick with their doctor through subsequent pregnancies.
"If someone has a good experience with a physician, they tend to return to that physician," she said.
Wilkey teaches prenatal classes and about half of the expectant moms plan to have their babies at TMH. The others plan to deliver in Steamboat, she said.
"It's a personal choice," Wilkey said. "I don't think it's my place to tell them where they should deliver."
Tammy Villard also is fond of her doctor and doesn't plan on changing.
She switched to Dr. David Schaller of Yampa Valley Medical Center after her doctor stopped practicing locally.
"I've been thrilled with the care," she said. "Once you're comfortable with someone you don't want to change. Dr. Schaller is wonderful. I've never heard one bad thing about him."
A new doctor, service
Word-of-mouth advertising already has boosted Dr. Crane's obstetrics patients to about a dozen. The OB/GYN sports a 24-year history of delivering babies and estimates that he has delivered more than 5,000 babies. But the nationally certified doctor said it might take time to change perceptions before patients think they get quality obstetrics health care locally.
"You don't just flash a sign and expect that people will come in," he said. "It takes a critical mass of people to have a positive experience. I'm not trying to get to people to come to an inferior place. If that was the case, I wouldn't be here."
Crane said he wants to increase his staff's ultrasound certification. A member of the American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine for the past decade, Crane is one of four physicians in the state who is certified by the group (a certification that trumps doctors' qualifications in Steamboat Springs and Grand Junction, he said.)
By working with the hospital, eventually he hopes to improve the department's ultrasound capabilities to be the best in the state.
TMH officials recently have committed to purchasing more capital equipment for the hospital's obstetrics program. Board members budgeted for new recliners in the hospital's birthing rooms, a new fetal monitor, surgery equipment and baby warmers to the tune of more than $80,000.
Those improvements, coupled with the construction of a new hospital, may be a chance to improve the obstetrics department, Crane said.
"With a new hospital, we'll be able to give input that we need (birthing) rooms to be big and not small anymore," he said. "We realize that delivering moms need some privacy."
TMH has two birthing rooms.
Indeed, a new facility in Craig might have lured Tammy Villard to deliver her baby closer to home.
Tammy said she liked the big rooms with whirlpool baths and the high security factor at the Steamboat hospital.
"It's a nicer facility," she said. "If we had a new hospital I would have had my baby here."
An attempt to do better
Moffat County mothers delivered 220 babies in 2003, but TMH will be lucky to report 100 deliveries by the end of the year, said TMH Administrator Randy Phelps.
Phelps acknowledged that the birth of a child could be the "initial relationship that builds a lifetime bond with health care."
"There's no belief that all of those patients are going to come back here," he said. "I believe that we haven't been serving our population well for a long time, but we're making an attempt to do a better job."
Though the hospital has access to six doctors qualified in obstetrics, only two in the community are board-certified gynecologists. Crane is the hospital's first board-certified OB/GYN in the past six years, a requirement that many families are looking for, especially with complicated cases, Phelps said.
Traveling the 40 miles to Steamboat isn't a good option for Melody Villard because she said she tends to have short labor cycles.
Besides, Melody said, she received good care of after delivering her first child in Craig, though she suffered complications, almost bleeding to death from hemorrhaging.
"I wouldn't go (to Steamboat)," she said. "I think we have quality health care the way the nursing staff handled our major medical problems."
Crane said he is hesitant to predict how his obstetrics practice will take off, but he expects to divide his time between deliveries and gynecology. Most important is that people know they have the option of seeing an OB/GYN locally.
"There's no carved in stone saying that 'Thou shalt not go to Steamboat,' but people shouldn't think that they have to go to Steamboat or Denver to see a board-certified doctor, because that's not true," he said.
"Ninety percent of the time it doesn't matter who is delivering your baby, it could be your dog. But 10 percent of the time, there's complications, and you want the best possible person."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.