Four months after opening an expensive new nursery for sick and prematurely born infants, Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks is experiencing a baby boom.
Tuesday morning, there were nine women in labor in the hospital's second-floor maternity ward. Babies--healthy and sick--are being born at a record-setting pace this month, and in March, a record 144 babies were delivered at the hospital, said Fran Montalto, director of women's and children's services.
Before the neonatal intensive care unit opened, the hospital averaged about 100 births a month, she said.
When Los Robles opened the center in December, some charged that it was a wasteful duplication of the resources offered by the county's only other neonatal intensive care nursery, a 30-crib unit at Ventura County Medical Center. The costs for an intensive care unit run up to $100,000 per high-tech crib, and Los Robles spent $4 million to remodel its entire maternity ward.
Questions about the need for the unit have been answered in its first quarter of operation, said Dr. Paul Hinkes, medical director of the unit.
"Clearly, it was needed. It's running practically full," Hinkes said. "We've had full-term babies with problems, we've had very tiny premature newborns, we've had everything in between."
The hospital had projected births would go up by one-third. Instead they've increased by nearly 50%.
Montalto credited the presence of the neonatal intensive care unit for boosting the hospital's birth numbers by allowing patients to stay in Thousand Oaks when they once might have been transferred to hospitals in the San Fernando Valley.
"We're doing more high-risk deliveries," she said.
Also, parents expecting healthy babies are drawn to the hospital because of the high-tech nursery, hospital officials say.
Los Robles has hired additional staff to accommodate the rush of babies and mothers, and it is still advertising for more nurses, Montalto said. The hospital is also considering expanding its "Women and Children's Pavilion" by adding more labor, delivery and recovery rooms, as well as neonatal intensive care unit beds.
The birth boom at Los Robles comes as births countywide are level or down from previous years, said Doy Williams, supervisor of vital records for Ventura County.
And the increased business at Los Robles has not come at the expense of the county hospital in Ventura or Simi Valley Hospital, officials said. Jo Lynn de la Torre, the hospital's marketing director, said Simi Valley Hospital's birth numbers were also up so far this year and were setting a record-breaking pace in April.
De la Torre said some sick babies born at Simi Valley Hospital have been transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Los Robles.
The babies are moved in a spaceship-like, neonatal infant transporter that Los Robles sends to carry sick infants from other hospitals to keep its own neonatal intensive care unit full.
Westlake Medical Center, just across the county line in Westlake Village, has seen a drop-off in births so far for April. Managing Director K.D. Justyn said the decline was probably not related to the new Los Robles nursery, but rather the result of uncertainty among doctors and patients about the future of the Westlake Medical Center after its acquisition by Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that also owns Los Robles.