For generations, expectant mothers on the Southeast Side have had to travel at least 8 miles to give birth at a hospital.

Starting in August, however, soon-to-be moms in that area will have access to top-notch technology closer to home when the Baptist Health System opens a new labor and delivery unit at its Mission Trail hospital, just inside Interstate 37 and Southeast Loop 410.

“South San Antonio deserves a great place to have a baby, have excellent care and have it be in the community where they’re going to raise their child,” said Michael Cline, CEO of Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, one of five San Antonio hospitals owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare.

The new unit is part of a $10 million renovation and expansion of women’s services throughout the system’s hospital campuses in San Antonio.

System officials say a thorough review of hospital use patterns found that more than 75 percent of residents living in the primary service area near Brooks City Base must leave their community to receive obstetrics care.

They have no choice.

Hospital staff works at the nurses’ station of the current ortho unit. (Marvin Pfeiffer / Staff Photographer)

The closest hospital with a maternity ward is Southwest General Hospital, 8 miles away. There are three OB programs downtown, 10 miles away. Eight other hospitals with labor and delivery units are in the Medical Center and throughout the North Side.

Cline said it’s a burden not only on the pregnant women, but on their families, to drive miles away from their neighborhoods to access prenatal, labor and delivery services.

That will change this summer, when experienced OB staff from Baptist Medical Center in downtown San Antonio relocate to Mission Trail Baptist Hospital. The new program will feature nine private labor and delivery rooms, seven post-partum suites, two dedicated C-section suites, an eight-bed neonatal intensive care unit and an OB emergency department.

Baptist Health System CEO Matt Stone grew up on the South Side and graduated from McCollum High School, which is part of Harlandale Independent School District. But his parents had to drive downtown for his birth.

“It’s a social justice issue to make sure the services are provided where the need is,” he said. “It makes a world of a difference for the whole experience of childbirth just being able to have care where you feel comfortable.”

Stone said moving OB services from the system’s downtown hospital makes good business sense, but it also feels good to be able to invest in medical services on the South Side.

Mission Trail Baptist Hospital opened nearly 10 years ago and was the first building at Brooks City Base, a former U.S. Air Force base that’s now a fast-growing hub for shopping, dining and medical education.

Under its previous owners, the Baptist system operated a hospital on East Southcross, but shuttered it to build the $100 million one at Brooks. A decade later, that acute-care facility is still the newest hospital in the area.

Connie Gonzalez, director of strategy and community relations at the Brooks development, said adding maternity services nearby is a “big deal” for the more than 2,300 residents who live on the campus.

Michael Cline, President and CEO of Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, from left, Kristen Fox, Chief Nursing Officer, and Megan Yarborough, Associate Chief Operating Officer, stand in what will be an eight-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in a coming OB unit.

She said when she found out about the plans for the added services, she texted friends and quickly started getting back celebratory emojis in response.

One of those friends, Jessica Ruiz, had her son 14 months ago at Brooke Army Medical Center because of her military ties. Her husband recently retired from the U.S. Navy and they live near the tiny town of Elmendorf.

“If I had the option, I would have wanted to have him at Mission Trail,” she said, adding that it’s more convenient to be closer to home and work. She’s the director of community relations at the San Antonio State Hospital, on South New Braunfels Avenue near Southeast Military Drive.

Ruiz takes her son to pediatric appointments on the Northeast Side and is supposed to have her own primary care visits at a clinic downtown. But she ended up canceling her last two appointments because she couldn’t make the drive out there.

Cline says the culture of Mission Trail is family oriented and hospital employees often see each other off the clock at weddings, quinceañeras and funerals. They’re particular about who is hired — many of the employees are from the surrounding neighborhoods or small towns nearby.

Chief Nursing Officer Kristen Fox, who lives in Floresville and worked on the South Side for the past 26 years, said during COVID-19 the hospital accommodated patients and their families by scheduling in-person appointments wearing full personal protective equipment.

Zoom or FaceTime just wasn’t going to cut it in this part of town, where the digital divide is more pronounced.

“A lot of people did have the technology, but they’ve never used it before,” Fox said. “Their loved one was really sick and we weren’t going to ask them to learn how to use their phones during a crisis. We weren’t comfortable doing that and we were fortunate the way our units are set up, that we were able to do in-person visits.”

Hospital administrators said Wednesday was the first anniversary of the day Mission Trail received its first COVID-19 patient. During the course of the year, the medical staff has treated 1,244 patients infected with the coronavirus.

The relocation of the women’s labor and delivery program from downtown to Mission Trail has the added benefit of increasing capacity at Baptist Medical Center for other medical services.

The downtown hospital will convert its current labor and delivery area into a telemetry and medical/surgical unit with 32 beds, enhancing the hospital’s cardiovascular and high-acuity medical specialty care.

Improvements at Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, one of five in San Antonio, is part of a $10 million renovation and expansion in the area.

And upgrades of women’s services are planned at other Baptist hospitals.

North Central, one of the primary hubs for maternal and neonatal services within the Baptist system, will get upgrades by the end of the year and recently received a new surgical robot for advanced gynecological oncology and other surgeries. Stone Oak’s maternity unit also will see renovations.

St. Luke’s Baptist Hospital in the medical center is redesigning its women’s tower and has established a midwifery-centered program with two rooms designed to support a more natural birthing experience.

In Westover Hills, Baptist plans to open a new women’s and children’s center to serve the growing demand for maternal and pediatric services in that area. The center located near 1604 and Culebra is expected to open later this year.

Article originally published here: Baptist hospital to open Southeast San Antonio’s first maternity unit