By Rose L. Thayer

Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD - The new Women's Health Center at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center opened its doors to the Fort Hood community Tuesday, providing current and prospective patients the opportunity to see the new facility before it opens for business on May 6.

"The need was recognized over 10 years ago, and to finally see it come to reality is really a great thing for those of us who work here and the community," said Col. Elizabeth Spooner, chief of Darnall's OBGYN department.

The $19.9 million contract to build the women's center was awarded March 7, 2008, and ground was broken in May 2008, but the concept of an inclusive women's health center began as early as 2004.

"There's been a demand for more rooms, more space and a more home-like environment for quite a while," Spooner said. "I'm very pleased to be open today."

Darnall birth rates range between 2,500 and 2,800 annually. The new 44,000-square-foot facility allows the

medical center to increase deliveries to from 220 a month to about 250.

The increase in exam rooms will also allow staff to see about 30 more patients each day for routine check-ups.

The new labor and delivery rooms, which are still under construction and tentatively set to open later in May, are larger and more family friendly.

One feature that has expectant mothers excited is wireless Internet access in the labor and delivery rooms, meaning deployed soldiers can be Skyped in to see the birth of their babies. Patients just need to bring a laptop.

"I'm really excited about that," said Sgt. Christina Phair, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. She is due in June and her husband will still be deployed.

"I was going to try and do that anyway, so it's more convenient that they have it here," Phair said.

The new center has about 100 employees, including 21 midwives who oversee about 70 percent of the births at Darnall. The providers focus on health education, preventive and self-care, and offer genetic counseling, care for normal and high-risk pregnancies, a centering pregnancy program, lactation services, prenatal care, childbirth preparation, ultrasounds and preconception counseling.

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