On a hot and humid August day in 1999, Nicholas Kulbida was driving away from Albany and a series of uninspiring job interviews when he passed a sign along Route 7 toward Schenectady that made him take a U-turn.
He drove up a hill, past a sign that read “Bellevue Woman’s Hospital,” and walked in with a head full of questions. A week later, the now-prominent Capital Region obstetrician and gynecologist met with the hospital’s owner and took a job at the Niskayuna mansion.
“For a brief moment I had been overtaken by a multitude of emotions, including shock, disbelief and finally giddiness at the thought that a women’s hospital could exist here in Schenectady,” he recalled to a crowd of more than 100 community leaders, elected officials and members of the public Wednesday.
As the chief medical officer of Women’s Services at Ellis Medicine, Kulbida was one of several health care leaders Wednesday to laud a project milestone at the 81-year-old Bellevue Woman’s Center — the signing of a 26-foot beam that will be used as the last piece of framework steel for the facility’s two-story, 32,000-square-foot addition.
The building expansion will be done by the end of the year, part of an innovative, $16.8 million project that Ellis and community officials said will further expand women’s health care in the Capital Region.
“As an obstetrician and gynecologist and a career advocate for empowering and supporting women in their health care decisions, I was blown away by the rich history and unparalleled commitment to women’s health in this community that this facility represented,” Kulbida said from a podium in front of the steel framework.
Work on the site began in the fall of 2011, and the addition is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It will include 22 private patient rooms and six semi-private rooms. Ellis will move its imaging and breast care program to the new Neil and Jane Golub Breast Care Center and Imaging on the second floor of the addition.
Ellis Medicine Board of Trustees Chairwoman Cristine Cioffi was among the first to sign the steel beam, which had been painted white for the occasion. Ellis physicians, employees and grown Ellis babies were in attendance Wednesday, leaving behind signatures with the dates they started working at Ellis Medicine or warm messages like “Bellevue — a strong past, a bright future.”
Several who spoke likened the construction of the new building to watching a pregnancy in progress, imagery that aroused chuckles from the audience.
“We are giving birth to a new building here, and by our calculation we’re in the first trimester,” said Cioffi. “But we’re going to let Dr. Kulbida confirm that.”
Kulbida did later confirm that, adding no epidural would be needed and the gestation period would be more like 18 months than nine.
“And let me tell you something, I am getting too old to deliver something this big,” he said with a laugh.
It was one of several fond memories those at the event recalled to the audience, which included representatives from the offices of several elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville; and state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna. Also in attendance were town Supervisor Joe Landry, town Planner Kathy Matern and philanthropic couple Neil and Jane Golub of the Golub Corp.
Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, was born at Bellevue. He showed up Wednesday to congratulate the hospital administration for keeping the facility in operation.
“My children were born here at Bellevue, and my wife has received some excellent, extraordinary care here at Bellevue,” he said. “And I just want to congratulate not just the leadership of the administration and the doctors and everyone who is here, but also the hard work of the Golub family and so many that were so instrumental in keeping this facility in operation.”
The renovation phase of the project is expected to be complete by September 2013 and includes improvements to the inside of the hospital. This will include a more spacious Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and regular nursery, a redesigned lobby and a new cafe and nurses station.
The architectural flavor of the former Bellevue mansion, including fireplaces, windows, a partial staircase and bricks, will be preserved during the renovation to reflect the health care center’s long history.
In its 81 years, Bellevue has been the first home for 100,000 babies, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, noted.
“I don’t claim to know most of those babies, but I have met a lot of people who have happy, happy stories to share about the humble beginnings here at Bellevue,” he said.
Against a backdrop of the construction site and a crane lowering beams of red-brown steel, he called the expansion at Bellevue an important investment in the women of the Capital Region.
“It is important to recognize the gender-specific approach,” he added, “which I think speaks volumes for the love and investment that is made on behalf of women in our region.”
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