One of the biggest fears of Anna Moncon, eight months pregnant, is that labor will begin during rush hour and she will have to drive 30 miles to the hospital--from her Panorama City apartment to County-USC Medical Center--in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
"What if I get stuck on the freeway? You never know when the baby can come," said Moncon, 29.
But, if all goes according to schedule, Moncon will no longer have to make the long trek to the County-USC medical complex's Women's Hospital on North Mission Road near downtown, which has the closest county-operated delivery room. Next week, the first maternity ward in the San Fernando Valley for indigent women will be dedicated at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar.
When the facility opens Nov. 16, it will not only be the busiest maternity ward in the Valley, but will handle the most high-risk deliveries, county health officials said.
Already, health officials have increased the number of deliveries projected for the ward's first year of operation from 3,500 to 5,200. Up to 20% are expected to be high-risk deliveries, said Barbara Fletcher, assistant nursing director for maternal care at Olive View.
County health officials said they expect as many as 5,200 women at Olive View's maternity ward during the next year because that is the number of pregnant women now under county care in the Valley area's eight health clinics.
"We are definitely going to be busy all the time," said Carolyn Rhee, assistant hospital administrator.
The $5.2-million wing will serve women whose deliveries are not covered by health insurance or who cannot afford the $3,000 to $5,000 it costs for a birth at a private hospital. The ward includes 29 beds for new mothers and 27 bassinets for normal newborns. Plans are to phase in by 1989 another 24 bassinets for infants needing special care.
The facility also will include three surgical-delivery suites and six delivery and recovery rooms, where a healthy mother can stay during labor, give birth and recover in the same bedroom-like room.
At the same time, Olive View will open a prenatal clinic for high-risk mothers, who also have to travel to Women's Hospital for their checkups.
Already, Olive View hospital officials are making contingency plans to use two 34-bed medical-surgical wards for new mothers if the need becomes critical, Rhee said. Those beds are empty now because the hospital is not yet in full operation.
The Olive View building opened to patients in May, 16 years after the hospital's former building was destroyed in the 1971 earthquake. At the end of the hospital's three-year plan to become fully operational, it will be licensed to treat 300 patients.
Overburdened nurses and doctors at the Valley's county-operated health clinics will find it a little easier to track patients' medical records, said Dr. Dorris Harris, chief physician for Valley-area health clinics.
"This will be a great help to the ladies and also our staff," Harris said. "Finally, ladies in labor won't be riding the freeway to get to County-USC."
It will also ease the crowding at Women's Hospital, where, at times, women have delivered babies on hallway gurneys, said Martha Aguayo Galiaf, the hospital's administrator.
In 1986, about 4,000 babies, or 23% of the 16,900 delivered at Women's Hospital, were children of Valley-area women, Galiaf said. In a best-case scenario, the opening of Olive View will translate to a drop in deliveries at Women's Hospital that will "give our staff a little relief in an already overloaded situation," Galiaf said.
"But, when it comes to giving birth, women seem to want to come back to the same institution," she said. "We will be closely monitoring what happens and strongly advising women to go to Olive View."
She said it is not uncommon for Valley women to arrive at Women's Hospital only to be sent, if they are low-risk cases, to another county hospital or a private hospital under county contract. The county then pays the private hospital to deliver the baby or reimburses county hospitals for maternity care of indigent women.
"Not only is the trip over here traumatic, but the other trauma is when they have to go to another hospital and their family does not know where to find them," Galiaf said.
Gilda Silva, a nurse in the county's Pacoima prenatal clinic, said arranging transportation to Women's Hospital commonly tops her patients' list of worries about their pregnancies.
"Many of the women are without cars, and they have to hope that other family or neighbors will be home when they go into labor," Silva said. "I have even known of some who have taken the bus when the first pains begin."
Since the opening of the hospital last May, Silva said, most of her patients have requested maternity care at the new Olive View.
"I can see the sad expressions on their faces when I tell them, 'No, dear, you will have to go downtown,' " Silva said. "I always tell them not to wait until the last minute because it could be a long drive downtown."
Just last month, one of her patients did not make it from Pacoima to Women's Hospital. She delivered three minutes after her husband pulled into the nearest emergency room on the way, which was at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Silva said.
Mirna Carrazna, 24, of Pacoima, who is expecting her third child on Dec. 11, said she is hoping she will be able to deliver at Olive View. In 1985, when she was pregnant with her second child, she said she had a swift labor and delivered just after arriving at Women's Hospital.
"I don't want the same thing to happen again," she said. "It is very frightening."