by Ann M. Colford

When someone in the family gets sick, who takes the lead in accessing health care services? Chances are good it's the woman of the family, says Sherry Maughan, a registered nurse and the director of the new Women's Health Center at Spokane's Sacred Heart Medical Center.

"Eighty percent of decisions on health care are made by women in the family, whether it's for you, your husband, our children and now our parents, because we're in that sandwich generation," she says. "For health care, women are the decision-makers in their families."

For this reason, medical providers throughout the Inland Northwest have begun paying close attention to what women want when it comes to health care services. In hospitals, obstetrics has been the primary program geared specifically to women, but now women's health care is evolving beyond the focus on childbirth. As the median age in the community increases, health care providers are expanding existing programs to look at wellness and the prevention and treatment of major illnesses.

This week, Sacred Heart opens its Women's Health Center in the new West Tower building as a response to these recent trends. Planning for the Center began more than six years ago, says Maughan, who was part of the project team from the beginning.

"We did surveys and focus groups where we asked women what they wanted and needed," says Maughan. "Women told us, 'I want to be cared for in an environment that values me as a person.' We heard that over and over again. So we used that, not only as we built our programs but as we defined our space. We really looked at how we could make it comforting, welcoming, soothing and just a place that it feels good to be."

The Center's Wellness Place offers screenings for osteoporosis and heart disease, educational forums on a variety of topics and massage therapy. A health resource library features books on everything from yoga to breastfeeding and nurses are available to answer women's health-related questions either in person or via the 24-hour RN Resource Helpline (474-2400 or toll free 877-474-2400). A program to address women's concerns during menopause is in the works as well.

"We'll have pain management specialists, exercise components, mental health services and counseling, because all of it is tied together," Maughan explains. "Menopause is a whole-body experience. If you're just [treating] one little part, the uterus and the hormones associated with the ovaries, you're missing [the big picture]."

Maughan and her team focused on becoming a convenient and comfortable portal to existing programs and bringing women's outpatient services together in a single location. The Center kicked off its Heart-to-Heart program in February, offering cardiac screenings and assessment of a woman's risk for developing cardiovascular disease, along with recommendations for reducing that risk. A test group of 10 women who began with screenings in February recently returned for a six-month update and demonstrated the program's success.

"Combined, they lost 48 pounds," says Maughan. "All of them lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and not one of them did anything major. They all just made small lifestyle changes."

Men are welcome to schedule a cardiac screening, as well, says Maughan, noting that the Center offers discounts for couples who come in together.

Also under the umbrella of the Women's Health Center is Toni Marie's, a program for women coping with changes to their physical appearance due to illness or injury. Formerly the Positive Image Center, Toni Marie's offers hats, wigs, turbans and other accessories for women dealing with hair loss from chemotherapy, along with a breast prosthesis and bra line for women who've had a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Consultation for skin care and makeup is also available.

"I have licensed cosmetologists who volunteer their time to come here and work with clients," says manager Jan Grayhek. "If I don't have the information a client needs, I'll research it so I can steer the person in the right direction to make sure they get what they need."

Of course, obstetrics still plays a major role in any facility dedicated to women's health, so Sacred Heart, much as Deaconess did several years ago, has moved OB services into newly designed space within the center. The Birth Place provides individualized labor support and private rooms designed to be more spacious, comfortable and home-like than traditional hospital rooms, with softer contours and mellow, relaxing colors.

"We spent a lot of time with families talking about what they wanted," Maughan says. "All of our rooms have a refrigerator, stereos with CD players, a VCR. A lot of our families bring cameras in so with the VHS connection they can see the pictures right there. Plus, the rooms have a computer connection so with a laptop they can e-mail pictures right away."

For women in high-risk pregnancies, the Antepartum Unit delivers the specialized services they need, right on the same floor. And just upstairs is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the hospital's tiniest patients.

"The Women's Center services are all consolidated under one phone number (474-2400), and we want women to recognize that number as a place where they can call to get the information they need, whether it's a resource, a massage, or hooking up for some cardiac training," Maughan says. "It's a one-stop shop. That's what we're trying to build here."

Publication date: 09/30/04

Minecraft: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 31
  • or