State’s second busiest birthing center handles toughest situations

According to newly released state data, with 7,970 babies born last year alone, Community Regional Medical Center remains California’s second busiest labor and delivery department for the third year in a row. Only Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women in San Diego had a few hundred more births.

“We fill a kindergarten class every day,” said Gwendolyn White, nurse manager for the labor and delivery department at Community Regional. The department averages 20 births a day, on its busiest day delivering up to 25 newborns. More than half of the babies born in Fresno County in 2006 were born at the downtown hospital.

“It is crazy busy some times,” said labor and delivery nurse Julie Christopherson. “But if it’s an emergency, it’s the place you want to be.”

When it comes to delivering babies, the staff at Community Regional is equipped and staffed with experts to tackle any birthing situation. For Christopherson, it’s the emergencies that add the unique character to her job.

Christopherson recalls a few years ago, a patient was hemorrhaging uncontrollably. Reacting quickly, the entire labor and delivery staff worked together to save the woman and child.

Beyond emergencies, Community Regional offers resources to women and babies not available anywhere else in the Central Valley, such as the region’s only perinatology program, specifically for women with high-risk pregnancies. White says many area hospitals will transfer their patients to Community Regional because they are high-risk: expecting multiples, having complications or going into labor prematurely.

“We have a lot of babies that are born that aren’t 40 weeks,” White said. “We’ve had some born at 25 weeks that have lived.”

In the high-risk antepartum unit, expecting mothers are closely monitored by obstetric residents from the UCSF’s Fresno Medical Education program in an effort to reach a full-term pregnancy.

“I remember the doctor came and told us it’s because of us that the woman’s baby lived,” Christopherson said.

Coming soon will be a brand new neonatal intensive care unit. The 54-bed unit, scheduled to open in 2009, will be housed on the hospital’s fourth floor. This will serve as the home to high-risk babies who weigh less than 3 pounds. Community Regional ranks No. 1 in the state for delivering live babies who weigh less than 3 pounds.

White says the hospital’s expertise in delivering high-risk babies explains its first-place ranking in delivering and keeping alive the tiniest and most fragile of babies. Those high-risk births also contribute to Community Regional performing the third most caesarean sections in the state.

“A lot of our C-sections are emergent,” White said. “It can be the mom is small and the baby is big, the baby is sideways, backwards, any number of things.”

The caesareans, in addition to all the other labor and delivery procedures, keep the birthing staffers on their toes. Christopherson says there are times when she and her colleagues handle four to five births at once. Christopherson says that is part of what has kept her at the downtown hospital.

“I like the variety. I like the different things that happen here,” Christopherson said. “It is a physically demanding job. But I love it.”

This story was reported by Martin Ortiz. He can be reached at