Pin It

Oh, Baby 

Does Sutter Health understaff maternity unit?

Wednesday, Jan 28 1998
Complaints about the care of newborns at Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa prompted state inspectors to investigate the hospital, where they found that, because staff had stopped using the facility's newborn nursery, infants were being left unattended.

A State Department of Health Services report released last week revealed that nurses were looking after babies at the nurses station, in the labor and delivery room, and in the newborn intensive care unit because the nursery was not staffed.

The report includes the following observations, all of which come from interviews with hospital staff:

* "... a nurse was watching a baby in a bassinet at the nurses station and left the baby unattended for a brief period. During this time, a nurse manager observed the baby unattended and removed the baby from the station without the nurse's knowledge.

* "... a nurse had to take a patient to surgery and asked the nurse manager to watch the baby. The nurse manager was watching the baby at the station, but when the nurse returned to the unit from surgery, the baby was at the station unattended.

* "... when coming to the unit several nurses were overheard arguing over who would watch a baby at the station while the mother showered. This staff person has seen babies in bassinets being watched at the nurses station while nurses chart.

* "Staff confirmed they wheel babies to the nurses station and chart while the mother rests or showers and that this happens almost every day/night. Staff also stated they either wheel babies in the bassinets or carry them when they have other things to do."

State health regulations prohibit all these practices. But after two months of review, and Sutter's plan to correct the situation, DHS did not cite the hospital.

Meanwhile, Sutter officials argue that not only was the nursery never closed, the entire DHS investigation is the work of a few disgruntled hospital employees. DHS is required to investigate all complaints it receives.

"The nursery never closed. It's there. It's ready. It's open," says Sutter Chief Executive Officer Clifford Coates. "The difficulty that we're having is that there are some people with some kind of agenda that want to paint us with sinister things [by] telling people that it's closed."

The problem began nine months ago, when the hospital reorganized the way its staff cares for new mothers and babies. Under the new plan -- called "couplet care" -- new mothers and their babies stay in a hospital room together. Mothers are also supposed to have the option of allowing the nursery to supervise their babies while the mothers sleep, shower, or undergo medical procedures.

But rather than assigning nurses to the newborn nursery, Sutter's new model calls for the entire shift of nurses to look after all the mothers and babies, whether they are together or apart. That's apparently where things went awry.

Nurses say Sutter's staffing isn't adequate to care for the patients and support the nursery at the same time. And a few patients definitely seem to have gotten the impression that there was no nursery at all. DHS interviews with patients hospitalized between April and August 1997 revealed the following:

"The patients stated they were told the babies needed to stay in the room and that there was no longer a newborn nursery. One patient indicated she wanted to have her baby in the nursery after having a caesarean section but was told that was not possible and maybe a family member could come and help if she felt she could not take care of the baby ...

"... Other patients indicated that when they asked the nurses if the babies could go to the nursery, especially at night so that the mothers could get some rest, they were told that there was no nursery and that the babies had to stay in the room."

Sutter CEO Coates insists that those were isolated incidents, caused by nurses unhappy about shift changes and negative media coverage.

"It's amazing what a couple of unhappy people can create," Coates says. "This is not a story. It's going to come out that we've actually improved things."

Sutter's critics find it hard to believe that contention. In fact, the $2 billion Sutter Health has battled part of the community since its highly controversial takeover of the previously public Community Hospital of Santa Rosa in 1996. A citizens group collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, leading to an emotionally charged campaign by both sides. State records show that Sutter spent $396,000 on the campaign, which featured -- surprise -- newspaper advertisements touting its maternity services.

About The Author

Lisa Davis


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed