A facility that has lowered infant and mother morbidity rates in the Y-K Delta has a new home. Bethel’s Prematernal Home has moved to a new building along the Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. The new Home is three times the size of the old one and has improved amenities for the region’s expectant mothers during the final stage of pregnancy.
With her flowing black hair and a light blue dress that shows off her full, pregnant belly, the woman in the window art at the front door of Bethel’s new Prematernal Home, could be any of the hundreds who stay at the facility while they await the birth of their babies.
“These are not stained glass but there’s three of them in the windows and they’re an acrylic paint that’s completely washable, so she’s pretty prominent here and she’s pretty special.”
She’s even painted onto the barriers in the parking lot. That’s Doreen O’Brien, who’s run the Prematernal Home for 24 years. The Home is run by the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation. It houses pregnant women from the surrounding 58 villages that YKHC serves, during the last month of their pregnancy, so that they can more easily access care required and are closer to emergency services should there be a complication. The new home is a huge improvement over the old one says O’Brien.
“The first and foremost thing that everybody notices is there’s more bathrooms, said O’Brien.
The rooms where women stay are larger, and they have nearly double the number of beds of the old home, 45. There’s a movie and game room, a commercial kitchen, a laundry room and even a workout room. The home is spacious.
“This place is 17-thousand square feet with 15 bedrooms, eight bathrooms, in their rooms. We have two public restrooms as well. And just the size; the old building was 5,000 square feet, this is 17,000 square feet, so it’s three times the size that we were in,” said O’Brien.
The home started out as a stand-alone non-profit in the late sixties, after local health care workers realized that many Native women from surrounding villages who had been directed by health care providers to relocate to Bethel, had nowhere to go. Some were living in poor conditions, even outside.
“In 1967 there was a lady found living under an under an overturned boat up by the old Indian Health Service hospital, about where the new Y-K building is now. And when the medical staff – somebody went out and found her out there and said what are you doing? She said, ‘Well they told me to come to Bethel to have my baby and be safe but I don’t have any place to stay.’ So that woke people up and realized that the women were coming in from the surrounding 58 villages but where were they staying?” said O’Brien.
An ad-hoc committee got together and the Hoffman family donated a house. By 1971, the home had relocated to what is now the old pre-maternal home, a little pink building near the Lutheran church. YKHC took over in 2004. O’Brien says the old Maternal Home wasn’t ideal.
“There was one time that I had 37 women in that prematernal home. We had a big storm come in in a January and every time a plane went to a village they’d throw the pregnant women on it an bring em to town and they’d be standing in the door and I says, I can’t just put you in the street. And there was no place else for em. We had ladies sleeping on the couches. I went into town, in Bethel, and bought every roll away bed that was known to man in Bethel and we put them up,” said O’Brien.
Today each woman gets her own bed in a spacious dorm room with a shared bathroom. Back at the front entry, O’Brien gazes up at the design of the pregnant woman on the glass between the entry and the dining area and marvels at just how far the home for expectant mothers has come.
“The first design of new maternal home back in ’96 or something and that was on the proposal booklet that was going out for grants, so there she is and she’s just kind of there, waiting,” said O’Brien.
And now she, along with the hundreds of women who spend the final weeks of pregnancy at the home, will have a much nicer place to bide their time until baby arrives. Construction of the new Prematernal home was paid for through a state capital appropriation of 12.6 million dollars. The official grand opening is set for Tuesday, November 18th (4-6pm).