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Upgrades on tap for mother-baby floor at MedWest-Harris

When Dr. Janine Keever hit the online shoe stores last month to hunt for the optimal pair of white knee-high platform boots, she wasn’t trying to spice up the look of her delivery room scrubs.

Instead, the retro footgear would be the perfect hallmark of her disco attire, donned in good fun and for a good cause during last weekend’s “That ‘70s Gala” fundraiser put on by the MedWest-Harris and Swain Foundation.


The event marked the formal kick-off for a campaign to raise money for major renovations to the mother-baby floor at MedWest-Harris hospital in Sylva. While still in early planning stages, the price tag is estimated at $2.5 million to $3 million.

The investment would be well worth it, however. Harris delivers upward of 600 babies a year — but the mother-baby floor is long overdue for a remodel, said Keever, a doctor with Smoky Mountain OB/GYN Associates based in Sylva.

Giving birth isn’t like most medical procedures. Many moms plan the special day to a “T” — from the right nightgown for post-birth photos to a soundtrack of their favorite songs during delivery. And the checklist usually includes a sneak peak of the labor and delivery room.

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“When you go have your gall bladder out, you don’t tour the operating room first,” Keever said. “Childbirth is an experience that is more emotionally driven for women. While women feel like they have really great care here, the ambiance is tired. It just kind of looks worn out.”

For several years, Harris has been planning a major renovation to the emergency room. But that project will cost more and take longer to do, prompting the hospital to move renovations to the mother-baby floor up in the queue.

“We felt like this project was more doable in the short-term,” said Steve Heatherly, CEO of MedWest-Harris. “It is very impactful. It is a significant service line for us. It affects a lot of people in our community.”

The new timeline for the emergency department renovations is the three- to five-year range, Heatherly said.

Babies are clearly a big business for Harris and worth protecting. Along with its home turf of Jackson County, Harris draws moms from the Cherokee reservation and Swain and Graham counties, where there are no labor and delivery services or OB/GYN doctors. Harris also pulls in a good number of moms from Macon County, even though Angel Medical Center in Franklin has a labor and delivery unit.

Keever’s practice — Smoky Mountain OB/GYN — has an office in Franklin, which has grown from a once-a-week clinic to a full-time operation in recent years.

The practice overall has seen such a surge in demand that it brought a third doctor on board just this month, Dr. Mile Bruce, who joined Keever, Dr. Anton vanDuuren and a team of four midwives.

The renovations to the mother-baby floor at Harris will do more than spruce up the décor. The number of labor and delivery rooms will likely grow from four to six. There will also be a dedicated operating room for C-sections, Keever hopes.

Currently, when a mom in labor changes course and needs an emergency C-section, she had to be wheeled through the hospital and down two floors to the operating rooms rather than simply across the hall.

“That will shave minutes off the time it takes to do a C-section,” Keever said.

Of course, the new labor and delivery rooms would have all the latest technology, as well.

That said, replacing the furnishing and fixtures cannot be underestimated. New dads staying over in the hospital must suffer through long nights on a hard recliner, considered their unavoidable cross to bear. But, Keever plans to question that paradigm.

“I am going to make sure the dads are comfortable so they can take care of the moms a little better,” Keever said.

Aside from the dads sleeping over, the recovery rooms where moms spend a couple of days with their new baby before going home can get notoriously crowded with visitors. And the rooms should be nice, Keever said.

The missing component is funding. As a hospital, Harris has limited funds of its own to bring to the table, which makes the project heavily reliant on fundraising.

“I am hoping when people see how important this is they will step up and make some good donations,” Keever said.

The fundraising goal is $2 million. An architect has already completed rough sketches. Heatherly hopes to see construction start in the second half of next year.

“We view this as an opportunity to provide world-class facilities to match the talent of our medical staff and hospital staff who provide these services,” Heatherly said.

One thing that won’t change with the renovations is the level of personal care and welcoming atmosphere provided by the tight-knit team of nurses on the mother-baby floor, Keever said.

“We have moms who have moved away but come back to deliver here because they had such an amazing experience,” Keever said.

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