Welcome to the family — UF Health North

Welcome to the family

With the opening of UF Health North in Jacksonville in February, UF Health is planting roots in a community long overdue for health care services. 

By April Frawley

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Hours before she and her husband were scheduled to fly home to Nashville after searching for a new house in Jacksonville, Lindsay Jamison discovered she was pregnant. So after the family moved in September, the search was on to find a midwife, specifically one who would be open to natural childbirth.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for Jamison to connect with Cynthia Williams, C.N.M., a midwife who has been with UF Health Jacksonville since 2001.

“We had a great experience at Vanderbilt (in Nashville) but we were really excited when we found Cindy,” Jamison says. “I found out about her and the birth center, and we have been excited about the options for birth here since then.”

UF Health North_MCM_6746In a few months, Jamison will become one of the first women to deliver her baby in UF Health’s first-ever birth center geared toward natural childbirth. Headed by Williams, the center is just one part of UF Health North, a new medical complex that opened in February on the city’s Northside.

The 210,000-square-foot building, which features the UF Health Birth Center, specialty medical offices, outpatient surgery, high-field magnetic resonance imaging, a 3-D breast imaging center and an emergency room, is the first phase of UF Health’s efforts to expand services and health care into North Jacksonville, a booming part of the city that has seen 22 percent population growth over the past decade.

“Basically, when you look at Jacksonville, all of the specialty services are in the city south of the Trout River (which separates the Northside from downtown),” says Daniel R. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Medicine in Jacksonville. “There is very little access to specialty services, in particular in North Jacksonville and 8th Street.”

Headquartered on 8th Street in downtown Jacksonville, UF Health Jacksonville is known best for its superlative Level 1 trauma center and hospital specialties. UF Health Jacksonville has long been a part of other Jacksonville communities as well, with primary care and specialty clinics sprinkled throughout the area. But UF Health North goes beyond this. What makes this expansion particularly unique is the types of specialty services and advanced options UF Health is bringing to the medically underserved Northside, at least one of which — the birth center — is not only unique to the area, but also distinctive on a national level. In addition, plans are already underway to build a new hospital at UF Health North, with a projected opening date in 2017.

“We have lots of satellite clinics all throughout Jacksonville,” says Wayne Marshall, associate vice president for UF Health North. “UF has a big presence here, but nothing enhances that presence like a hospital and a state-of-the-art medical facility with the latest equipment and UF faculty and community docs.

“In Jacksonville, UF Health is not just on 8th Street.”


UF Health North_MCM_6666Situated near the bustling River City Marketplace and Interstate 95, minutes away from the Jacksonville International Airport, UF Health North gleams against the skyline. Inside, the waiting areas look more suited to a posh hotel lobby than a medical facility, with modern couches and chairs positioned just so next to a wall of windows. Even the emergency room sign looks futuristic — a work of glass and metal. But it’s what’s behind the exterior beauty that UF Health leaders find exciting.

The six-story building features a 28-bed adult and pediatric emergency room, the birth center, an outpatient surgical suite, advanced MRI services, a breast center offering advanced diagnostic techniques, and access to specialties such as cardiology, dermatology, neurology, pediatrics, bariatric surgery and more. Given the number of companies in
the area, the facility will also feature an occupational medicine program for employers.

Although the population of North Jacksonville has been steadily growing for more than a decade and the area is surrounded by industry, UF Health North is the only medical facility in an 11-mile radius.

“This area has been very underserved from a medical standpoint. When we have an incident here at the airport, we have to transport the patient downtown, and that takes 20 to 25 minutes,” said Jacksonville Aviation Authority CEO Steve Grossman. “Having a facility five minutes away will literally save lives.”

In fact, prior to the building’s opening Feb. 17, prospective patients were already coming to the building to request care, says E. Jedd Roe, M.D., M.B.A., director of emergency services at UF Health North.

In preparation for the facility’s opening, all staff members have completed hospitality training to ensure that patients not only get the care they need, but also enjoy the experience as much as possible, Marshall says.UF Health North_MCM_6693

“We are committed to this from the start and have everyone on board,” he says.

For Roe, building relationships with people in the community is key. One of his goals is to branch beyond the walls of UF Health North by speaking to school groups, churches and emergency responders in the area. 

“I want to be a good partner with the community and a resource for whatever is needed,” he says.

The birth center

Plans for the birth center at UF Health North — which will open in March — began a couple years ago when Cynthia Williams observed a delivery at a standalone birth center. Moved by the experience, she asked Guy Benrubi, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Medicine – Jacksonville whether UF Health could develop a birth center model for interested families.

The answer was yes.

Typically, birth centers that cater to mothers interested in natural birth techniques, such as water births and home births, are not part of health systems. Although some hospitals and health systems have natural birth centers it is a first for UF Health. The new center is nationally unique in several ways.  The facility is adjacent to a 24-hour emergency room and also the first such facility within an academic department of obstetrics. The center has two birth suites, each featuring a comfortable bed, whirlpool hot tub and other amenities. The lobby of the birth center is fashioned like a living room with play areas for children; additional space will be designated for moms-to-be to receive massage and acupuncture treatments. “There is nowhere around here with anything like this,” says Williams, the director of the birth center. “Many women are interested in natural childbirth. Women are looking for these options and UF Health was open to listening to what these women want.”

To plan the birth center, Williams and other UF Health leaders met with women, childbirth educators and doulas to find out exactly that. Those conversations informed the plan for the center. For example, the tubs are wide and deep and the rooms are dimly lit and equipped with sound systems that families can use to play their own music. Although the midwives will avoid medical interventions unless needed, the center is also equipped with IVs, oxygen and monitoring equipment. Also, because the center is part of UF Health, an ambulance service will be able to transport mothers to UF Health Jacksonville for additional care if necessary.

“I saw one couple who never considered an out-of-hospital birth, but because that is where I am going and it is an amazing facility affiliated with UF Health, they were like ‘Maybe, we do want this …’ Because of where it is and how it is being set up, people who never considered it might consider it.”UF Health North_MCM_6720

But perhaps what is most exciting for families is the ability to have one midwife throughout labor instead of midwives cycling in and out based on their shifts, and the chance to go home hours — instead of days — after birth. Moms who give birth at the center will stay there about four hours after birth, depending on the case. Because they will not receive an epidural or other pain medication, moms who give birth naturally won’t have to stay at the hospital for monitoring. Instead they will be educated about postpartum care and receive visits from a nurse at home, Williams says.

“That’s a huge draw,” she says. “People want to get home.”

For Lindsay Jamison and her husband, Joshua, this was one of the most appealing aspects about giving birth at the center. Already parents to a daughter, Daley, they want to get home as soon as possible after their son is born.

“That is huge,” she says. “We had a great experience in the hospital (where Daley was born), but we were just ready to go home. On the other side of it, I like that the center is connected to the hospital, because if there are any issues, it is right there.”

The future

The next phase of UF Health North will begin next year when construction starts on the 92-bed hospital. The hospital will include traditional labor and delivery rooms, in addition to medical and
surgical services.

The presence of two UF Health hospitals in Jacksonville should also help raise awareness about what UF offers in the city, too, Wilson says. Although Jacksonville is already home to UF Health Jacksonville, a College of Medicine campus as well as College of Pharmacy and College of Nursing sites and dozens of satellite practices, people in the area still don’t seem to know how much of a presence UF has in the city, Wilson says.

“The scope of UF in Jacksonville is one of the best-kept secrets in the city,” Wilson says. “We have almost 800 UF doctors in Jacksonville. This also will help reaffirm that UF physicians are available, and it should be a boon to the faculty as well as the people in North Jacksonville.”