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Work was underway on Tuesday at St. Patrick Hospital on a new obstetrics unit set to open in June. The unit is a collaboration between St. Pat's and Western Montana Clinic.

After a 40-year absence, the miracle of childbirth is coming back to Missoula's St. Patrick Hospital.

The hospital announced Tuesday a new collaboration with a group of obstetrics and gynecology physicians at the Western Montana Clinic to create a new seven-bed labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum suite with a dedicated cesarean section operating room.

Construction of the 12,214-square-foot unit on the third floor is scheduled to be completed in June of this year, and the first babies should be delivered there by August. The renovations will cost between $5 million and $6 million.

“We’ve been serving our community for 142 years, but we haven’t delivered a baby since 1975,” said Jeff Fee, chief executive officer of Providence Health & Services Western Montana. “We knew this opportunity, 40 years later, allowed us to rebuild the program to our existing high-quality and award-winning standards. We had the chance to recruit the finest experts and physicians to establish the infrastructure around the landmark return of babies to St. Pat’s. We can’t wait.”

The first baby born at the hospital came into this world on Aug. 19, 1881, according to historical records. The last baby born at the hospital was a girl, born at 9:02 a.m. on May 16, 1975. The OB and the nursery closed at midnight that same day.

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The Western Montana Clinic has been providing health care services for more than 90 years in Missoula, and the OB/GYN physician group has a combined 51 years of experience delivering specialized women’s care in western Montana.

The group will eventually be comprised of four doctors: Mark Garnaas, Janice Givler, Jennie Mayo and Robert Humble. A certified nurse midwife, Nancy Everett, and family nurse practitioner Candace Hoppe are on the team as well.

The Providence Women’s Health Program will be led by a new regional director, Kathy Schaefer. She has experience running two hospital campuses, which combined average more than 400 deliveries a month.

Garnaas will be the acting medical director.

“We look forward to partnering with SPH to provide the highest-quality women’s health care in western Montana, and look forward to delivering babies in the new labor and delivery unit,” he said.

Joyce Dombrouski, chief acute services officer of Providence Health & Services Western Montana, said Missoula is a competitive marketplace and the new services will help make the city a statewide destination for health care.

“I am excited to announce that our services will include inpatient obstetrical and newborn care, an expanded inpatient and outpatient pediatric program, and outpatient obstetrical/gynecological care," she said. "But the specifics are still forthcoming."

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Dombrouski wasn’t around when St. Pat’s decided to eliminate the obstetrics unit in 1975.

“The official statement was that the birthrate was declining in the county and there was sort of a gentlemen’s agreement between Community Medical Center and St. Pat’s that we would do the hearts and they would do the babies,” Dombrouski explained. “So there was some splitting. At that point in time, it made some sense.”

Community Medical Center has provided those services for the four decades since.

In 2006, St. Pat’s considered getting back into the obstetrics market and actually built a unit, but then decided not to for what Dombrouski called “a variety of reasons.”

“Health care is ever-changing,” she said. “So then we ended up using that space for our primary care women’s clinic and they’ve loved it.”

The women’s care clinic has moved to the nearby Providence Center.

Dombrouski said the hospital has projected that it will deliver 300 babies in the first year.

“We honestly think we’ll do more than that,” Dombrouski said. “OB is a little bit of a consumer choice service, which is maybe different than what you think of sometimes in other areas. The Western Montana Clinic obstetricians are very strong, good partners, good clinicians with a good reputation in the community.”

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