July 15, 2008

OU Center Meets a Need: Hundreds of Women Flock to Expanded Perinatal Care

By Kim Archer, Tulsa World, Okla.

Jul. 15--Jacqueline Wilson squeezed her friend's hand as Dr. Nora Doyle prepared to push the needle into her belly.

"We're trying to find a place where there's no baby," the doctor said, watching the baby wiggle on the ultrasound monitor. "It takes longer to plan our trip than it does to take the trip."

Doyle pushed the needle and began to draw the clear, yellow liquid from the sac surrounding Wilson's fetus. At two months pregnant, Wilson said she began to bleed. Her sister told her about the new perinatal center at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa's Schusterman Center Clinic, 4502 E. 41st St.

Now at five months along in her pregnancy, things look good.

"The fluid is nice and clear," Doyle said.

As director of the dedicated center she launched in March, Doyle is one member of the husband-wife team that has quickly pumped up Tulsa-area women's access to high-risk pregnancy medical care, particularly for low-income or uninsured women.

The pair arrived in Tulsa in December from Emory University in Atlanta and quickly discovered a profound need for their services.

"There is a huge demand out there that is

being unmet," said Dr. Michael O. Gardner, professor and chairman of OU-Tulsa's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Tulsa's demand became clear in recent months as hundreds of pregnant women with medical issues such as diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure streamed into the new center.

In June, 665 women received ultrasounds at the dedicated center, slightly under the 670 ultrasound scans performed at both OU clinics all year in 2007, Gardner said.

"We're on pace to do more in one month than all of last year," he said.

There aren't necessarily more women in northeastern Oklahoma with high-risk pregnancies, but there is a shortage of perinatologists to care for them, Gardner said.

"We have been in need of expansion in the number of fetal-maternal doctors," said Jan Figart, associate director at the Community Services Council. "Expansion helps stabilize our high-risk services in the Tulsa community for people who are low income or who may be uninsured."

With the duo's arrival at OU and Oklahoma State University's expansion of its perinatal program, Tulsa now boasts six maternal-fetal medicine specialists. Four are at OU, making its perinatology group the second largest in the state. The largest is at OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

Only 32 of 77 Oklahoma counties have a hospital that provides labor and delivery services, Figart said.

"As a result, we're seeing more and more women from our region receiving their prenatal care in Tulsa or the Oklahoma City area," she said. "This applies a lot of pressure not only to our safety-net system, but also our ability to reduce infant mortality."

Doyle and Gardner's presence has quickly made an impact in Tulsa.

"We've probably doubled inpatient admissions at Hillcrest Medical Center and increased the census of its neonatal intensive care unit by 25 percent," Gardner said.

And nobody who seeks care is turned away.

"I really do believe we are state employees, and we have an obligation to serve the people of the state," Gardner said. "It's the smart thing to do and the right thing to do."

For more information about the center's services, call 619-4207.

Kim Archer 581-8315 [email protected]


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