Making Room for Life

Hospital room

She started her nursing career at Howard in 1971, when it was still called Freedmen’s Hospital. The Howard grad has since held multiple roles at the hospital, most of which involved caring for sickly newborn babies.

On the personal side, in December 2017, her grandson, Kanaan White became her fourth grandchild born at Howard University Hospital. One would think she could not be prouder to be affiliated with the historic medical facility.

But a conversation with White quickly reveals newborn reasons why she and myriad others who care for and about mothers and babies are even more excited about what’s going on at Howard University Hospital.

Recently, the OB ward of the hospital was expanded, moves that are expected to more than double the number of deliveries at Howard University Hospital to almost 2,000 in the coming years.

The deal that sealed the expansion will increase services the hospital can offer to all patients, even beyond infant and maternal health, thus helping to improve health equity for D.C. residents.

“It is absolutely the best thing that could happen for women, infants, children and families in the district, and it serves as a model for the nation.”

Howard decided to expand its OB ward and services in 2017 after two other D.C. hospitals—Providence and Unity Medical Center—stopped delivering babies.

“Howard stepped up to fill that void,” said Dr. Hugh Mighty, dean of the Howard University College of Medicine. “Howard Hospital has always had a tradition of taking care of the underserved. I can’t think of a more noble way to do that than by serving mothers and their babies because that’s our future generation.”

The expansion is part of an operating agreement between Howard University Hospital and Unity Health Care, which operates more than 20 clinics in D.C. In addition to the expanded infant and maternal care, Howard will be able to offer specialty care beyond obstetrical care. Those specialties include orthopedic medicine, ophthalmology, cardiology and urology.

The partnership positions Howard and Unity to help reduce the high infant mortality rates and the high maternal mortality and morbidity rates of D.C. residents, Mighty said.

According to a District of Columbia Department of Health Report, the infant death rate was 7.6 per 1,000 live births in 2014, up almost 12 percent from the previous year. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black mothers nationally die at three to four times the rate of white mothers.

“We will be able to increase services across the board,” Mighty said. “Howard will be able to provide more high-risk obstetrical care and more comprehensive care throughout the community.”

The partnership with Unity represents the continuation of the Howard legacy, said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University. Frederick said it will allow Howard to bring even higher quality care to D.C. patients, especially in Wards 7 and 8, which he called medical deserts due to the paucity of medical services there.

Frederick, a surgical oncologist who trained at Howard himself, said the collaboration offers another stellar example of Howard’s mission in action.

“When you come to Howard, I often say, you don’t just come to get a degree; you come to get an education, and that education comes alive when you go out and change the world around you,” he said. “This expansion allows us to go out and go change the world in a positive fashion.’’

Unity President and CEO Vincent A. Keane called the collaboration a fitting continuation of the shared commitment both Howard and Unity Health Care have to improve the health of D.C.’s underserved population. Those residents will benefit from the combined care from Howard’s specialists and Unity’s primary care providers.

“More and more today, there’s a focus on integrative care,” Keane said. “There’s a linkage necessary between the primary care, the specialists and the hospital. All three elements are in this agreement. And while it’s focused on women’s care, we expect it to impact all care. This partnership manifests that need to collaborate, and we’re very excited to do that.”

The expansion represents a $2 million investment in improved care for women and children, said James A. Diegel, FACHE, Howard University Hospital CEO.

“We are stepping up once again to welcome patients in need of care, regardless of their ability to pay,” Diegel said. “It contributes to Howard’s re-emergence in playing a robust role in obstetrical care and prenatal care. It feels like getting an injection of new business and that energizes the rest of the hospital. It allows us to be more competitive with other hospitals.”

The key part of the OB ward expansion is 12 refreshed and renovated rooms for pregnant mothers—in a previously unused section of the hospital—and the addition of a third operating room in the obstetrical suite of the hospital.

The renovated rooms are freshly painted with healing colors, such as lavender and soft orange, and are furnished with new televisions, beds, nightstands and pull-out beds so fathers or other support persons can room-in if desired, said Dr. Shirley Evers-Manly, chief offi cer of nursing and patient services at Howard University Hospital. The rooms opened to patients in late March.

“When pregnant women come here to deliver, it is like witnessing a new miracle every day,” she said. “We have updated the rooms with state-of-the-art equipment, and we are providing interprofessional education to our care providers to improve the patient experience and the care we provide before, during and after their babies are born,” Evers-Manly said. She said that the OB ward expansion also includes: 

  • Two renovated triage rooms, up to six from the current four
  • Three new laboring rooms, up from seven for a total of 10
  • Five rooms dedicated to caring for moms with health concerns, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and mental illness, during or after childbirth
  • Expansion of the neonatal ICU nursery, from six to 18 beds
  • Reopening of the Transitional Nursery, which will have 18 beds, up from 14 beds

The Transitional Nursery is a licensed unit, referred to as “intermediate care,” for sick babies who do not require intensive care but require 6-12 hours of nursing each day, Evers-Manly said. It also provides care to low-birth weight babies who are not sick but require frequent feeding and who require more hours of nursing than normal.

Additionally, one of the 12 renovated birthing rooms will allow a woman to have a variety of delivery options, including a water birth. Some women prefer water births because the warm water helps a laboring woman’s muscles relax, which often speeds labor. Also, they believe babies born in water enter the world more gently.

The hospital also plans to offer midwives and expects to hire about 30 additional full-time caregivers, in conjunction with the expansion. Evers-Manly expressed great excitement about these expanded services.

“One of the little miracles could be thenext Barack Obama or Michelle Obama or Dr. Mighty or Dr. Frederick,” she said.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shelly McDonald-Pinkett (B.S. ’83) said the expansion continues Howard’s mission of being a primary place for delivery and other care that dates back to 1862 when it was founded as Freedmen’s Hospital to care for former slaves.

“The new rooms will allow mothers and babies to room-in which is recommended for the safety, comfort and bonding of mother and child,” said McDonald-Pinkett. “We will also be better able to assist mothers with breastfeeding and other services new moms may need.”

Frederick can speak personally to the quality of infant and maternal care offered at Howard Hospital.

He and his wife, Simone, had their youngest daughter, Kirie, now 11, at Howard Hospital.

“We are certainly fans,” he said. “We are simply grateful for the excellent care we received.”

Care is expected to get even better with the expansion.

“It offers women the benefit of a onestop shop for all their health care needs and provides care to newborns in a family-friendly environment,” White said. “We will make that woman feel special by giving her an environment that’s beautiful, comfortable and top-quality.”

White was already a registered nurse when she fulfilled a longstanding dream to earn an undergraduate degree from Howard University. Though she earned that 1974 degree in history, she wound her way back to medicine. She became director of public health programs for the hospital in 2000.

Her affection for Howard goes even beyond the four grandchildren born at Howard University Hospital. Both of her now adult children, Njideka White (B.S. ’99; M.S.W. ’04) and Nkosi White (B.S. ’02), are Howard University grads.

“I have full confidence in the care at Howard hospital,” Davene McCarthy White said. “We really have top-of-theline services. Now we are going to have top-of-the-line facilities for the patients. It’s a wonderful opportunity for women and children.”

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