VICENZA, Italy — A week had passed since her husband had left for his first deployment in the war on terrorism, and Shand Mayville already found herself sitting face-to-face with Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the U.S. Army in Europe.
“Tell me what I can do for you,” Bell told Mayville and a half-dozen other wives of soldiers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza in April 2003.
The women rattled off suggestions for making life at Vicenza better. Top on the list was a medical clinic where military wives could give birth aided by American doctors.
Mayville had a feeling the general would come through on his promise to build the clinic.
But “I’m shocked that this has come up so fast,” she said Friday at a ceremony dedicating the newly built Dr. Frank V. Benincaso Mother and Infant Pavilion.
When the birthing center opens next month, military wives and soldiers at Vicenza will get access to something many women at other bases in Europe already have: a Army health clinic that follows the customs and practices of U.S. hospitals.
And following the newest stateside practices, mothers using the new center will deliver their children and recover from labor in the same room.
“No more of that shuffling around business,” Bell said Friday as he offered a tour of the 7,700-square-foot building.
Most important for some mothers, those doctors will describe what is happening in English.
“I’m thrilled,” Briana McDougall said of the center. “English-speaking is a big deal. I want to know what’s going on. And I don’t want to have to wait for a translator to tell me.”
McDougall expects her first child the second week in June, so she hopes the Army puts the finishing touches on the $8 building and opens it by the June 8 target.
If the building opens late, she will be stuck with two unattractive options.
At the local Italian hospital, doctors speak through translators, visitation hours are strict and husbands are removed from the room during delivery.
The other option is a hospital in Aviano, 120 miles away, with a section staffed with American doctors. But under the rules, expectant mothers have to arrive there a week before their expected delivery date and stay in a hotel until ready to deliver.
Nikki Stewart was one of 200 wives of 173rd Airborne soldiers who were pregnant when the brigade deployed to Iraq in 2003. The baby boom was one of the big motivators for wives to push for a new facility.
Pregnant with her second child while her husband is deployed for the second time, Stewart’s baby is set to arrive just before the opening of the birth center.
“I was hoping that it would be here so I wouldn’t have to go so far,” Stewart said.
Expectant mothers living in Vicenza could still end up giving birth in an Italian hospital if they are determined to be at high risk of having pregnancy complications. That includes women who had complications in past deliveries or have other health problems, such as diabetes, said Col. Eric Salminen, who will be the center’s chief physician. About one-fourth of the mothers Salminen saw at his previous hospital were labeled high-risk, he said.
The birth center unveiled on Friday is a temporary site that will remain open until it moves inside a larger, 100,000-square-foot medical facility on base.
The larger complex will include areas for general practice medicine, dental services, pediatrics, a pharmacy and social services, among other things, said Ray Flock, a manager for the Army’s Health Facilities Planning Agency. Construction on that $40 million facility is to begin in 2007 and finish in 2009, he said.
Flock, who helped plan the new birth center, said he also was impressed by the speed that it went up. The construction contract was awarded Nov. 24.
“This is something that usually takes five years, not five months,” he said.