Dr. Claire Weitz, head of maternal/fetal health at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, jokes that the Towson hospital's new obstetrics wing is so nice, "I would have another baby just to experience it."
But when the hospital -- which already delivers more babies than any other in metropolitan Baltimore -- opens the first phase of its $100 million expansion today, it's not Dr. Weitz's business it hopes to attract. It's yours and your doctor's.
A year after closing its doors to newly practicing obstetricians because of a lack of space, the hospital opens its new $45 million obstetrics and acute care wing to doctors who aren't already associated with the hospital, according to President Robert P. Kowal.
The first phase of expansion, costing $70 million, also includes a 900-space parking garage, to be completed next spring, renovation of the hospital's front gate and a storm water management pond.
With the new obstetrics wing, the 27-year-old hospital hopes to increase its current 4,300 annual deliveries -- second in the state to Silver Spring's Holy Cross Hospital -- to 5,200 next year.
"We already know of physicians who will move their practices here . . . including three major groups that represent 900 deliveries a year," Mr. Kowal says.
Those deliveries will partly account for an expected $171 million in revenues next year, up $18 million. A portion of that increase also can be attributed to this year's 7 percent rate increase. The hospital expects profits -- about $5.1 million last year -- to remain about the same this fiscal year.
Even with the investment, the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission says GBMC's routine delivery cost of $1,732 makes it one of the least expensive hospitals in the Baltimore area for childbirth.
Improving facilities and medical technology will become more and more popular as hospitals continue to compete for patients and doctors, according to Eugene Melnitchenko, a health care analyst at Legg Mason.
"Hospital business used to be a regional business -- you served your population within a region of about 10 miles or so," he says.
"But with all the advertising . . . and changes in the insurance businesses and HMOs, it has become more and more competitive. And one of the ways that hospitals compete is by offering a good environment and the most modern equipment."
GBMC's old obstetrics unit was designed more than 20 years ago to accommodate 3,000 births a year, says Dr. Victor A. Khouzami, chairman of the obstetrics department since 1984. The new wing can handle 6,000 births.
Compared to the old obstetrics unit, the most notable changes are the decor and number of labor/delivery/recovery rooms (LDRs). Some of the 17 new LDRs are nearly twice as big as the old ones.
The old unit had only seven LDRs, which were open on a first-come-first-served basis. Women who labored in one of the six labor rooms were moved to an operating room for delivery, and then to a recovery room. Old LDRs were not equipped to handle complications that might arise during a delivery, and the woman would be moved to an operating room.
Starting today, women who deliver at GBMC will labor, deliver and recover in the same room, Dr. Khouzami says. Even births with complications -- such as a forceps delivery -- can be handled in the well-equipped rooms.
A woman will be moved to an operating room only if her doctor decides to perform a Caesarean section.
While the room's extra space may seem like a luxury, Dr. Khouzami stresses the importance of having enough room for an obstetrician, pediatrician, nurses and birthing coach to attend a delivery.
The hospital needed a delivery suite to satisfy its needs and those of its patients well into the 21st century, not just for the next few years, Dr. Khouzami says.
Designed with wooden floors and cabinets, low lighting, large windows and private bathrooms with showers, the LDRs "look like a night at the Hyatt," according to Carmel McComiskey, who delivered her first child at GBMC in 1988 and expects her second child any day.
Mrs. McComiskey, who is a pediatric surgery nurse at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says she's more interested in the technological advancements than in the lush surroundings.
"But even I was impressed," by the expansive LDRs, she admits. And she expects that her husband, Jim, her daughter, Kate, and her mother, all of whom will accompany her to the hospital, will benefit from the changes as well.
"I think they'll walk away from the experience thinking childbirth has come a long way," she says. "I'll let you know how I feel after the delivery."
Space also has increased in operating rooms in the wing's acute care unit, which includes an intensive care unit, a coronary care unit, a surgical intensive care unit, a medical intensive care unit and a progressive care unit.
Physicians will not have to wait as long to get their patients in for elective surgery. The larger rooms will accommodate the modern equipment that sustains a life or helps during surgery.
"Our operating rooms were designed 20 to 25 years ago, and they're just outdated," says Dr. Dale Buchbinder, chairman of the department of surgery at GBMC.
The new intensive care unit has windows so that patients can see outside, which Dr. Buchbinder says is important for patient morale and recovery. The increase in the number of acute care beds, from 22 to 34, also means the hospital will go on red alert less often.
When a hospital is on red alert, all its acute care beds are full, and ambulances take critically ill patients elsewhere.
The second phase of GBMC's expansion, which will include a new neonatal intensive care unit and newborn nursery, will begin in January and will be completed in two years.
The third phase, which will include the renovation of nursing units, will be completed in five years. The cost of both phases will be $30 million.