Crouse Health: Where Family is the Foundation

By Cari Wade Gervin
Monday, June 29, 2020

The staff at Crouse Health’s Kienzle Family Maternity Center spend so much time helping new families come into existence, they’ve become their own workplace family, too.

Suzanne Bartol, MD and Maria Ciciarelli, MD, FACOG

When you ask physicians and staff what they love about working at Crouse Health’s Kienzle Family Maternity Center in Syracuse, you hear one word over and over: camaraderie.

“I feel like there’s a lot of camaraderie, which you need,” says Maria Ciciarelli, MD, FACOG, partner at CNY Women’s Healthcare. “If an urgent situation arises, nurses, other physicians and other attendings on the floor are the first to jump in. I think that’s one of the best things about working at Crouse.”

Suzanne Bartol, MD, FACOG, partner at Loftus, Ryu & Bartol agrees.

“We all work together and help each other out,” Dr. Bartol says. “But we are friends outside of being colleagues when we’re at work. That goes on at all levels, from residents to nurses to attendings.”

This tight-knit collegiality is why so many OB/GYNs have stayed at Crouse since they started medical school rotations or their residencies — in Dr. Bartol’s case, 19 years, and 16 years for Dr. Ciciarelli. It’s also why the standard of maternity care is so high at Crouse, says George Stanley, MD, FACOG, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Upstate Medical University and a Crouse-affiliated obstetrician.

“We have a highly experienced and trusted team of obstetricians who look out for each other and are able to assist colleagues while teaching residents and medical students,” Dr. Stanley says. “It’s a different experience when you are managing difficult cases, deliveries and surgeries with a person who is in training. It means you, as the trainer, have to really know what you’re doing to guide the trainee so they eventually will be as good as — or even surpass — your skill set.”

“What differentiates Crouse maternity care is the fact that we have an entire hospital team available for both patients and physicians,” says Betty O’Connor, director of women’s and infants services. “There are five members of our nursing leadership team available to assist physicians and prospective patients through the process of selecting a physician and hospital to have their birth experience.”

Betty O’Connor, director of women’s and infants services confers with Brynne Stockton, RN, Nurse Manager (right)

A History of Woman-Centered Care

In 1887, no hospital in Syracuse offered maternity care or treated children. A group of 14 female community leaders, including Jessie Lansing Crouse (whose family would later fund the hospital enough to change its name), launched the Syracuse Women’s Hospital and Training School for Nurses. Crouse herself took the first five patients in her carriage to the home that housed the hospital.

Much has changed in medicine and maternity care over the past 133 years at Crouse, but the commitment to putting mothers first is still the number one priority.

The physicians, nurses and midwives at the Kienzle Family Maternity Center deliver close to 4,000 babies each year — more than any other hospital in upstate New York. Crouse also serves as the Regional Perinatal Center for the Central New York region.

Mothers come from diverse and varied backgrounds and hail from the Southern Tier all the way to the Canadian border.

Dr. Stanley says the nursing staff at Crouse has plenty of experience in treating different types of patient populations, which helps improve patient outcomes.

“We have nurses who have been with Crouse for 20 to 30 years and more,” Dr. Stanley says.

“These are our neighbors — our friends. These are the people we see in the grocery store. In a city the size of Syracuse, you run into your patients nonstop. And I think it’s a true team effort to provide the best care.”
— Stephen Brown, MD, FACOG, Director of Low-Risk Obstetrics at Crouse Health and President of CNY Obstetrics & Gynecology

Suzanne Bartol, MD

Low-Risk, High-Risk and Everything In-Between

The Kienzle Family Maternity Center is well known for its treatment of high-risk pregnancies, but most births each year are routine, low-risk births.

“If moms don’t want interventions, we don’t want to do any unless we need to,” Dr. Ciciarelli says.

The experience levels of the staff are important for all births, says Stephen Brown, MD, FACOG, director of Low-Risk Obstetrics at Crouse Health and president of CNY Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“I hear, ‘He’s the director of low-risk obstetrics, what’s his experience with high-risk obstetrics?’ Well, you never know when a pregnancy is going to go from low risk to high risk.” Dr. Brown says. “In the past week, I had a set of twins and another preterm baby who are both in the NICU right now.”

Given the maternal and infant mortality rates in the area, that level of care is crucial. In 2016, the state of New York was ranked 30th in the nation in maternal mortality. And Onondaga County has averaged 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in recent years, one of the highest rates in the state. It also has an 8.6% rate of preterm births, with 7.9% of babies born underweight.

“Crouse has 24-hour anesthesia care onsite,” Dr. Stanley notes. “When emergencies happen, we don’t have to call an anesthesiologist. If a patient has unplanned conditions that require intensive care, general surgery or neurosurgery, we have all those high-tech specialists right here at our fingertips.”

In addition to physicians and nurses, the maternity team includes lactation consultants, technicians and support staff.

“We are able to provide the one-on-one care our high-risk patients need,” Dr. Ciciarelli says.

And when neonatal intensive care is needed, the staff is ready.

“We have the highest level of NICU care available 24-7,” Dr. Brown says. “This gives patients confidence knowing they’re going to have anesthesia care and neonatal care available when they need it, if they need it. And it gives the physician — whether the pregnancy is low-risk or high-risk — the comfort level to say, ‘Listen, we can do what’s right. We can do it quickly. And we have backup in the NICU that’s available to us at all times.’”

“I really enjoy working at Crouse Health, even when it’s a stressful workday. It’s a work environment that’s conducive to taking care of patients and providing the best care possible.”
— Maria Ciciarelli, MD, FACOG, Partner at CNY Women’s Healthcare

Special Care for Tiny Babies

The Walter R.G. Baker Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Crouse serves up to 1,000 preterm and medically challenged babies each year. It is the only NICU in Central New York designated by the New York State Department of Health as a Regional Perinatal Center.

“We take care of the sickest babies,” says Brynne Stockton, RN, MSN, nurse manager of perinatal services. “We have highly skilled nurses who are always staying up-to-date with the latest evidence-based practices and the highest standards.”

Some infants need longer-term care. The antepartum care team provides support for those mothers and families, often becoming close friends.

“I personally have had an experience with a family that was here with an antepartum patient,” Stockton says. “The mother delivered here, and the baby was in the NICU for many days. I still keep in touch with that family. We try to meet each other when they’re in the area. And that’s not just an experience I’ve had, it’s an experience that many Crouse OB nurses have.”

Stockton says nurses become friends with former patients, and that patients routinely send Christmas cards and updates about their now-grown babies.

Dr. Bartol and George Stanley, MD

On the Same Page

Even during low-risk births, it’s important to have staff in sync.

“When you have a patient who’s laboring, you could spend significant time up there with the same people, and you really get to know each other and you also get to know your patients very well,” Dr. Bartol says. “ I think that makes the unit work really well. It’s not just a place to clock in and clock out.”

During high-risk births, that cohesive unit is invaluable. Dr. Brown experienced one situation when a patient was transferred to Crouse from another hospital after the delivery took a serious turn.

“The anesthesia team, NICU staff, nurses and I all communicated before the patient’s arrival,” Dr. Brown says. “Then, as soon as the lab work and our initial evaluations were done, we were in the operating room ready to deliver the patient’s baby. The ICU was notified in case the mother needed intensive care afterward. To have everyone on the same page, before the patient even arrived at the hospital — I think that that type of communication and that type of skill level is evident only at an institution like Crouse that has all the resources available around the clock.”

Those resources led Dr. Stanley’s wife to have her three children at Crouse. Dr. Bartol also delivered her three children at the hospital.

“Clearly, I’m biased because I have chosen to work at Crouse, but I also chose to have my own children here,” Dr. Bartol says. “I feel we’re able to provide that higher level of care with excellence without patients feeling like we are trying to medicalize their care. We want our patients to follow their birth plans as safely as possible.”

That’s what the Crouse camaraderie is all about.

“We are very supportive of each other,” Dr. Brown says. “Everyone truly wants what’s best for patients because we take pride in following evidence-based medicine and providing compassionate care. I think patients truly do get a great experience when they deliver at Crouse.”

Stephen Brown, MD, FACOG, with baby

For more information on maternity services at Crouse, visit