Lourdes targets maternal health with major Lafayette expansion

A digital rendering shows the plans for the new facade of Our Lady of Lourdes Women's and Children's Hospital.
The overhaul of Lourdes' Women's and Children's Hospital as part of the Advancing Acadiana initiative will include both an expansion of services and a makeover of the interior and exterior. Courtesy of Our Lady of Lourdes

Working as a pregnancy navigator for Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Stephanie King is often the first point of contact for expectant mothers on their complicated journey toward childbirth.

“I get a lot of phone calls, throughout the day, with patients saying: Hey, I found out I was pregnant, but I don’t know what to do next,” King said. A former labor and delivery nurse at the hospital, King helps pregnant women figure out their next steps and guides them through often complicated situations, be it complicated pregnancies or financial difficulties.

Maternal and perinatal care have been a persistent challenge in Louisiana, which has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the country. Maternal and child health has also been identified as one of Acadiana’s top 10 health needs in the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment, a survey effort designed to guide local nonprofit hospitals’ efforts to better serve their local communities.

Last month, Our Lady of Lourdes broke ground on a massive overhaul of its Women’s and Children’s hospital, in an effort to fill gaps in maternal and perinatal care in Louisiana.

Plans to expand services had been underway since the group purchased Women’s and Children’s in 2019, and after some disruptions and delays caused by the pandemic are now moving ahead full-steam, said Stephanie Manson, market president for Our Lady of Lourdes Health.

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“Ultimately, our goal is to have a healthier community,” Manson said, adding that the groundwork for that is ensuring mothers and their babies are well cared for. The project, which is part of a $100 million investment across all Lourdes campuses, involves building a new neonatal intensive care unit, a new unit serving new mothers and their babies, and exterior improvements to the hospital.

“Some of it is just enhancements and upgrades of the facility that can brighten and make it a bit more cheery,” Manson said. Overall, she noted, the project will constitute an expansion of services available to expectant and new mothers.

Making the business case for such an expansion can be difficult, Manson noted. “There are certain services that may have a larger margin than others, and pediatrics and women’s services don’t always lead the way,” she said.

However, to maintain their nonprofit status — and the tax benefits that come with it — nonprofit hospitals are required to regularly assess the community’s health needs and develop plans to address them, regardless of whether it would be profitable to do so.

This process was incorporated into law by the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to ensure those hospitals meet their “community benefit” mission, which is the basis for their tax-exempt status, and takes place every three years. Local hospital groups Lourdes and Ochsner recently wrapped up their joint survey efforts for this year’s assessment, the results of which are likely to be published early next year.

“Once we identify those greatest needs that the community told us, we take that data, and we bring it to our administration,” said Bentley Senegal, director of community services, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center. Once the greatest needs are identified, “we will have to decide which one of those we’re going to address,” Senegal added.

Various factors go into that decision, Senegal explained, including the number of people an initiative would likely benefit, the severity of the issue in the community, and the alignment of any initiatives to address it with the hospital system’s overall strategy.

In the case of maternal and child health, the stars aligned for Lourdes following the acquisition of Women’s and Children’s Hospital, making it a priority following the last assessment, Senegal noted.

While the availability of services is one challenge, accessibility is another. In terms of physical accessibility, Senegal pointed to another recent addition to the hospital’s resources for families, the Ronald McDonald Room. There, women whose newborn babies require extended care at the hospital after birth can stay free of charge to be close to their child.

“We had patients that were mothers that were sleeping in their cars downstairs while their babies were in ICU,” Bentley said. “They didn’t have the money to pay for a hotel.” Lafayette, including Women’s and Children’s Hospital is a hub of medical care for Acadiana, with women traveling from all across the region to give birth and receive care at local hospitals.

Since it opened in November 2022, the room has housed over 50 families, with an average stay of 15.6 days, as of December last year.

Financial accessibility is another challenge faced by expectant mothers in the region. While roughly 90% of Acadiana residents have health insurance, according to the community needs assessment, King said nearly half of the expectant mothers who call her do not.

“They kind of feel stuck, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know where to go. I’m just able to be that point of contact for them to make them feel comfortable,” King said. For those without health insurance, the pregnancy navigator refers them to the hospital’s team of financial counselors, who can help them apply for Medicaid or guide them toward other resources like payment plans and programs for low-income mothers.

Along with providing expanded services, Manson said, the new-and-improved Women’s and Children’s Hospital is meant to serve as a hub of quality, accessible care for expectant mothers in Acadiana.

“Anyone that is expectant, can call and we can help them through that journey,” Manson said. “We go to those services that are needed in the community. And that’s why this is important, regardless of the margins.”

Substantial construction at Women’s and Children’s is expected to start next month, according to Manson, with an anticipated timeline of three years until completion. In the meantime, hospital operations will continue without interruption, the director said. “Our goal is to make it seamless for any patients that are coming to access the campus during the period of renovation.”