VICENZA, Italy — More than 1,000 women have given birth on Caserma Ederle since a birthing center opened in 2005.
But starting June 1, American newborns will greet the world elsewhere. The Europe Regional Medical Command announced Friday that the center will close and same-day surgical procedures will be handled off base.
Col. Andrew Barr, commander of the U.S. Army Health Clinic on the base, said an evaluation by Army medical and U.S. Army Europe officials determined that patients would be treated well off base and that military assets could be used better elsewhere.
Barr said he’s convinced that a network – headed by Vicenza hospital San Bortolo – is more than adequate to handle patient care. He said most births that are expected to be difficult are already handled there.
“Our network is well-established and well-equipped,” he said in a telephone interview.
Clinic officials are now trying to reinforce that message with the community.
“I think the biggest thing is fear of the unknown,” he said. He added that he believes the Italian hospital has made several key changes in recent years and that previous concerns – lack of private rooms, a language barrier and absence of epidurals – “have been mitigated.”
The center will continue to provide care through the end of May. But staff members will meet with patients under their care next week to answer any questions, Barr said, and there’s a communitywide town hall tentatively set for Feb. 6.
Forty staff members — 26 active-duty personnel and 14 civilians — will be directly affected by the move, Barr said. That’s about 20 percent of the clinic’s total staff. Some may remain at Vicenza in other capacities, but that’s yet to be determined. Equipment will go back into the Army medical inventory for use at other facilities.
The clinic hasn’t determined what it will do with the extra space in the 141,000-square-foot clinic.
The birthing center opened in 2005 to large fanfare, while much of the community’s military population was deployed to Afghanistan. Almost 300 babies were born on base in 2007 and 2009, with an average of about 120 during each of the last four years.
While San Bortolo is the centerpiece of the off-base network in Vicenza, there are other options, too, Barr said. Both Padova and Verona boast university hospitals. And those who decide they want American personnel to care for them and their babies can opt for essentially medical deployment close to their due dates in order to give birth at the Air Force hospital in Aviano – about 90 minutes away – or at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Barr said thousands of Americans have received treatment at San Bortolo or other Italian medical facilities over the years. Though the base opened a large clinic in 2010, it hasn’t had the equipment or personnel to handle an array of procedures, including emergency care. The base currently has eight liaisons to help patients at the Italian hospital.
He said about 190 military medical personnel would continue to take care of minor office procedures after the birthing center closes.