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New City Gets a New Hospital

New Hospital

Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) opened its doors for the first time on July 9, 1973. A 59-bed hospital was planted in a former farm field on the edge of a visionary new city, Columbia. The hospital, founded during the changing winds of the 70s, was envisioned and made manifest by the pioneers of Columbia and the citizens of Howard County. During that founding year, the Vietnam War ended, Skylab was launched and New York’s World Trade Center opened its doors. Out of those early days promise, the story of modern health care in Howard County was born. During this anniversary year, Wellness Matters will focus on how that promise grew. From our humble beginnings to becoming a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, we’ve been caring for generations.

Born in 1973

First Baby 1973

Nearly 40 years ago, the first modern, yet modest hospital in Howard County opened its doors with little fanfare and limited news coverage. In its first day of operations, the hospital saw 36 patients in the emergency room and had four admitted patients. That sounds small compared to 731, today’s average number of patients we interact with daily. Other key portions of the hospital, including the “maternity” section were delayed a few more days but opened just in time for the delivery of the first baby. The Howard County Times reported that baby Sarah Ruth Phillips was born via a “natural delivery” at 11:11 p.m. on Friday, July 20, 1973. Sarah, the first child of Long Reach residents Mr. and Mrs. James Wynn Phillips, weighed 6 pounds, 7.5 ounces. In the next several days, Sarah was joined in the nursery by several new baby girls, but it was not until July 23, the day that Sarah went home, that the first baby boy was born.

Changes in Attitudes

In the 1970s, maternity units and the labor and delivery process were undergoing big changes as the new era of natural childbirth and Lamaze introduced in previous decades was finally taking hold. HCGH was in the forefront of that change. Here, mothers, who previously had been sedated during the delivery, were encouraged to stay awake and become involved in the experience. The role of fathers expanded as they transitioned from pacing in the waiting room to participating as coaches in the labor and delivery room. Carol Katz delivered one of her children at HCGH in the early days of the new hospital. She says that she and her husband, Dr. Joel Katz, “felt like it was family there versus delivering elsewhere. It felt like home.”

Phillip Webster
The late Phillip Webster, M.D., HCGH pediatrician
with a newborn.

Mrs. Phillips is quoted in the Howard County Times about her experience saying, “Downstairs in the prep lab and the delivery room, everyone was very encouraging…whatever I wanted, they provided.” This was a big departure from old protocols that required laboring mothers to remain in bed and hooked up to intravenous drips. Mary Ellen Miles, who celebrates 25 years of nursing at HCGH this year, talks about the evolution of care: “Of course, now we have telemetry, which allows us to track and monitor a patient’s progress even as patients are up and walking about. Certified nurse midwives and doulas have also become a part of the birth experience.” Mary Ellen, whose fourth grandchild was born here last year in an un-medicated delivery says, “Technology, or non-technology, the hospital is supportive of the patient’s choice and that is key to the experience.”

Rules changed in the early 70s for the nursery, too. No longer were babies required to be isolated for 12 hours in the nursery away from their mothers. Instead, infants were now allowed to “room in” with new mothers who were encouraged to take an active role in the care of their newborn. Support systems have improved. Lactation specialists now educate new moms about breastfeeding. Perhaps the biggest change was the opening of the Special Care Nursery, now known as the Lundy Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), in 1990. “It changed things across the board,” says Mary Ellen. “Now we had an obstetrician in house 24/7. This was a huge improvement, and there were fewer unattended deliveries. Prior to that change, nurses were often called upon to make the delivery.”

The hospital’s location between Baltimore and Washington, DC; access to top physicians; and a relationship with Johns Hopkins Medicine have certainly been conducive to the positive changes that HCGH has experienced. In a county ranked second in the nation for educational attainment, Mary Ellen believes that the evolution of health care for mothers and babies can also be attributed to educated patients. “Patients are informed about their options. They have questions, and they want answers and to understand their alternatives.”

One thing remains constant throughout the years of change – the high level of dedicated nursing care. “Nurses are the link between doctors and patients,” says Mary Ellen. “We are present throughout the birthing process, and, years later, former patients will come up and tell us ‘you helped birth my baby.’ How amazing! In one day we can make such an impact that patients can remember you for a lifetime. What a gift that is to the nurses!”