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June 02, 2021

Methodist childbirth educator looks forward to Riley move

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Methodist childbirth educator looks forward to Riley move

The new maternity tower at Riley will centralize all inpatient and newborn care so even the sickest moms and babies don’t have to be separated in different hospitals.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

For 28 years, Renee Oswalt has walked through the doors of IU Health Methodist Hospital, ready to care for new mamas and babies – first as a labor and delivery nurse, then as a childbirth educator and coordinator.

Next year, Oswalt will step through the doors of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health when the hospital’s new mother-baby unit opens. And she couldn’t be happier.

“I think we have the potential for great things by moving to Riley,” she said. “I look forward to it.”

That kind of attitude will be key to the success of the new maternity tower, which will centralize all inpatient and newborn care offered at the three Downtown IU Health hospitals. When the tower is complete next year, Riley will be able to provide comprehensive maternity services, from lowest to highest risk, accommodating an estimated 3,800-plus deliveries each year.

Construction for a new mother-baby unit at Riley Hospital for Children

Four floors of Riley are being renovated to house a labor and delivery unit, a postpartum unit and a 45-bed Level 3 neonatal intensive care unit, which when added to the 60-bed Level 4 NICU in Riley’s Simon Family Tower, will make it the largest NICU in the state.

The Riley Outpatient Center also will be updated to house an outpatient maternal-fetal medicine clinic and will include a comprehensive fetal center to diagnose and treat babies in the womb suffering congenital anomalies.

For Oswalt, it’s the chance to be part of an exciting new chapter in maternal-infant care at IU Health.

“When you work in healthcare, especially nursing, things change every day,” she said. “You have to move with the times.”

Oswalt was a nurse manager and shift coordinator at a Toledo, Ohio, hospital before moving to Indianapolis to take a job as a nurse manager in the maternity unit of another hospital system in the late 1980s. She moved on to Methodist a few years later to develop her labor and delivery nursing skills in a busier hospital.

She didn’t know a soul in the city when she came here, but she met a man on a blind date who would become her husband. She became a bonus mother to his three children, then the couple had a daughter of their own 23 years ago who, of course, was delivered at Methodist.

Oswalt transitioned into childbirth education nearly 20 years ago. For a while, she combined nursing with childbirth education classes but now devotes her time entirely to education.

What does that look like in the age of COVID?

A year ago, Oswalt couldn’t imagine teaching expectant parents through a computer screen, but that is exactly what she is doing.

COVID forced the cancelation of in-person classes, but like individuals and businesses everywhere, the childbirth educators figured out how to adapt their lessons to an online audience.

While it’s tougher to develop a personal connection virtually and she misses seeing her new moms and babies at the hospital, Oswalt and her team have made the best of it.

Earlier this month, she received a thank-you card from a couple who had gone through her virtual class. The couple were new to the city and needed extra support. Now new parents, they expressed gratitude to Oswalt for helping them through the process in the weeks leading up to the birth of their child.

“Notes like that make it all worthwhile,” Oswalt said. “So many times in any job you feel like your cup is getting empty. You’re spilling out all your stuff, but nothing’s filling your cup up, and one little note like this fills your cup over the brim.”

Oswalt has enjoyed giving tours of the maternity unit at Methodist in the past. That too has gone virtual, so she is missing that personal interaction with expectant parents.

“I really enjoy selling the place, talking to people, telling them about what happens here,” she said. “I’m looking forward to going over to Riley and telling people all about it, too.”

She is hoping to tour the new Riley unit later this month or next.

“At Methodist, we get patients from all over the state with many complications that require specialized care for babies and moms,” she said.

And that sometimes requires separating moms and babies, particularly if a newborn needs surgery over at Riley.

“Having them closer to that care is a big positive,” she said. “I feel IU Health will do everything possible to make it a smooth and cohesive transition for sick moms and babies.”

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