PROVIDENCE — Women and Infants Hospital, which delivers approximately 80 percent of the babies born in Rhode Island, is looking to rebuild its labor and delivery unit. But Care New England, the health care system that owns the hospital, is looking for your support to fund it.
Shannon Sullivan, hospital president and chief operating officer, told the Globe Thursday that while the hospital’s labor and delivery unit is “top-ranked,” it’s outmoded. She said the unit needs larger delivery rooms to accommodate a greater variety of birthing practices, and the hospital wants to provide an “equitable, state-of-the-art environment” for the nearly 8,400 babies born there each year.
“[The hospital’s] current labor room was built in 1986. It only has three labor rooms with windows, most with shared bathrooms and the rooms are smaller than current code standards,” Sullivan said. “The new labor rooms will all have windows, be larger to meet code requirements and more room for our patients, bathrooms and sleeping couches in each room for support persons, be able to support low to high intervention births in the same space.”
“This is not only a core mission of Women and Infants Hospital, it is a personal goal of mine, having had all three of my children here,” Sullivan said.
She said there will also be multiple team spaces to support team communication and collaboration as opposed to long, windowless hallways that are currently in the hospital for staff now.
All together, the improvements are going to cost about $28 million, which will be a fully philanthropic effort — meaning Care New England won’t be putting up any capital.
Care New England has been bleeding money for years, and posted multi-million dollar losses throughout the pandemic. Most recently, the system attempted to merge with Lifespan, the state’s largest health care system, to try to aid its financial pressures. But Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha rejected the deal nearly two weeks ago, saying it would hurt consumers by creating a health care giant with a stranglehold on the local market.
Dr. James E. Fanale, the CEO and president of Care New England, told the Globe in July 2021 he was concerned about the financial struggles at Women & Infants Hospital after it posted an $11 million operating loss. In an interview earlier this week, Fanale said the system would not have to close any of the hospitals because the merger did not go through, nor did he plan on selling off any unit or hospital.
“We plan on keeping the system together,” he said.
“The new Labor and Delivery Center is designed to benefit all Rhode Island families — by positively impacting quality, safety, and clinical outcomes,” said a news release on the issue.
Sullivan said construction will begin later this year with a plan to open sometime in 2024, and fundraising will continue throughout that time. She said the majority of the addition will be on the outside of the hospital so the current labor rooms will remain open during construction.
In addition to the redesign of the labor, delivery, and recovery suite, the campaign will also raise funds for the Women’s Health Research Institute, which will cost about $5 million and will also be a “100 percent philanthropic effort.”
Raina Smith, a spokeswoman for Care New England, said the hospital plans on kicking off a fundraising campaign for the $33 million by connecting with Rhode Islanders through “storytelling, multi-media communications and online channels, in-person events, and grateful patient testimonials.” The past few fundraising events have also raised money for the campaign, said Sullivan.
The campaign will be co-chaired by Alan Hassenfeld and Anne Szostak.
Hassenfeld is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Hasbro Toys in Pawtucket, and is a trustee of Brown University. He’s also the chairman of Hassenfeld Family Initiatives, which is a philanthropic organization with the goals of globalizing safety and human rights within the area of children’s products.
Szostak is the founder and president of Szostak Partners, a boutique consulting firm in Providence. She has served on the board of directors of Tupperware Brands Corporation since 2000 and also serves as the director of IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.
Judith Remondi, Campaign Steering Committee Chair, has been a long-standing donor of the hospital after giving birth to her son there nearly two decades ago.
“We need the entire community to participate in the campaign, whether it’s a $100 or $1 million dollar gift,” said Remondi, who is also a Women’s and Infants Hospital Foundation board member and Care New England board member.
Sullivan said the institute will provide greater seed money for new and mid-career researchers trying to build their research, but may not having the grant funding yet. She said the research institute will build on the Constance A. Howes Women’s Health Innovation Research Fund that was started a decade ago and will focus on a wide array of women’s health issues while bringing in academic partners, such as Brown University.
The system will raise funds over the course of the next three years for the institute, Sullivan said.
“I could tell you one thing is very important to us is health equity,” said Fanale in a recent interview with the Globe. “But we have the largest women’s hospital in the region, and we know maternal mortality and morbidity are not equitable.”
Sullivan said these initiatives focused on maternal health stemmed from community feedback on the current facility to assure there is equity in the building process.
When asked how these initiatives could help reduce maternal mortality morbidity, she said the rooms will be able to accommodate larger support systems and a space for doulas (the hospital does not currently have room for doulas), and improved patient flow to allow faster transition of patients to the labor and delivery unit and not prolonged waits in the emergency department.
“Women and infants has to do a better job of addressing the unique needs of the community we serve,” she said. “We know that when processes and communication are disrupted, this disproportionately affects our patients from diverse backgrounds.”