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Sneak peek of new Cone Health Women’s & Children’s Center in Greensboro

GREENSBORO — Spacious rooms, abundant natural light and lots of color. That’s what most impressed some of the pregnant women who toured the new Women’s & Children’s Center at Moses Cone Hospital on Wednesday.

“It’s a big change,” said 27-year-old Telysha Florence, taking in the differences between rooms in the new facility and those at Women’s Hospital. Florence, whose due date is March 29, said she’s most excited by the size of the rooms.

“It’s much bigger and much more accommodating for the family to be together,” the Greensboro resident said. “And it’s much brighter.”

Florence was among seven pregnant women who participated in Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new center, which is connected to the south side of Moses Cone Hospital.

Hundreds of Cone Health employees, donors, volunteers, politicians and others gathered for the ceremony.

“Our goal was not to build a hospital, but to design the ideal place for one of life’s ultimate experiences,” said Terry Akin, Cone Health’s chief executive.

Several outpatient clinics at Women’s Hospital will remain until a new location is found for them, according to Doug Allred, a Cone Health spokesman.

Five years in the making, the $100 million Women’s & Children’s Center officially opens to patients on Feb. 23, when the health care system will transfer expectant mothers from Women’s Hospital to the new center.

Its neonatal intensive care unit has 45 private rooms, instead of pods where newborns are clustered together. This allows families privacy and the ability to stay the night with their child.

The center’s 248-square-foot “mother-baby rooms” actually are slightly smaller than those at Women’s Hospital, which were built as semi-private rooms. However, because the new rooms have higher ceilings, more usable space and more light and color, they look much larger, Allred said.

Women who previously gave birth at Women’s Hospital — and their husbands — had a hand in designing the new center.

Lori and Hezekiah Poag of McLeansville spent 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Women’s Hospital after the birth of their boy in 2015.

“We really got to know the facility, from everything down to the fragrance of the hand sanitizer to the colors on the walls,” Lori Poag said. “It was our home for months.”

After touring the new center, Lori Poag said her husband “was really impressed with the pull-out beds” for family members, noting that he tried one out and found it comfortable. “Before (at Women’s Hospital), he was sleeping in the chair.”

Expectant mother Laquenta McGhee-Rawls said she was glad that the staff at Women’s Hospital would be moving to the new facility.

“The staff are very friendly and nice,” said McGhee-Rawls, who’s expecting to give birth to her third girl on April 15. “I love the colors, just everything — the whole atmosphere.”

She’s planning a water birth, which can help manage pain during the birthing process.

The Women’s & Children’s Center is only the second hospital in the state that allows water-immersion births, said Amy Skrinjar, the nursing director of labor and delivery who was helping lead tours of the facility.

There are mobile tubs that can be moved into one of the 18 labor and delivery rooms, where there is access to water and drains to accommodate the tubs.

“It is becoming very popular in our country for women who want to deliver in the water,” Skrinjar said. “Women for years would go and stand in a hot shower when they were in labor because warm water is comforting and soothing. It’s a more natural delivery.”

Examination lights in the labor and delivery rooms are hidden behind panels featuring flowers or other decorative imagery, and the lights can be dropped from the ceiling when needed.

The facility has its own entrance on Northwood Street, a connected parking deck and free, 24-hour valet service.

Amy Mong of Greensboro, who spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit with the birth of her child in 2014, said Cone Health did a good job of listening to the community.

“I love that they have the big, open space for the family-support center,” Mong said. “There was a lot of conversation around … a community space, where the moms could come and talk to one another and connect with one another.”

That connection is important, said Melissa Brooks of Oak Ridge, who had twins at Women’s Hospital in 2013, “because you’re surrounded by people who get it.”

The center also has an outdoor patio, which can accommodate hospital beds, for family visitation.

Patient rooms have pass-through cabinets for meals and supplies, meaning fewer interruptions to pick up trays and used linens.

The center also is one of the first facilities in the state to offer what it calls “couplet care.” If a mother has a C-section and the baby needs intensive care, the two can remain together with one hospital team.

“It makes me want to have another kid,” Lori Poag said, prompting a somewhat shocked look from her husband and laughter from the other women in her group.

“We’ll see,” Hezekiah Poag said. “We’ll see.”

President Trump picks Greensboro's Aldona Wos for next ambassador to Canada

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has tapped a retired Greensboro physician to be the next U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Dr. Aldona Wos was nominated Tuesday to fill the role vacated by Kelly Craft, who is now the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, news outlets reported.

Wos must be confirmed by the Senate.

In 2017, Wos was appointed by Trump to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, a group responsible for recommending individuals to the president for appointments. She also served as ambassador to Estonia, from 2004-06, under former President George W. Bush and as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, from 2013-15.

Her boss, former Gov. Pat McCrory, gave her high marks for controlling Medicaid spending. However, her roughly 30-month term was marked by threats from the federal government to sanction the state for food-stamp failures, a temporary shutdown of food benefits to low-income women and infants, and questions about no-bid contracts and the hiring of an executive from her husband’s firm to a high-paying, contract position as her assistant, according to previous reports by The News & Observer in Raleigh.

Wos is married to Louis DeJoy, a major GOP fundraiser and donor who is leading the fundraising effort for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte this summer. The Center for Responsive Politics said Wos gave more than $760,000 to Republican candidates and causes during the 2018 election cycle, the N&O reported.

In May, the couple hosted a GOP fundraiser at their Greensboro home that featured Vice President Mike Pence.

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Judge voids deal giving UNC statue to Confederate group

RALEIGH — The fate of a Confederate statue torn down by protesters was thrown back into uncertainty Wednesday when a judge overturned a settlement by the University of North Carolina’s governing board that gave the monument to a Confederate heritage group along with money to preserve it.

Judge Allen Baddour ruled in Orange County Superior Court that the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn’t have standing to bring the lawsuit that led to the hastily arranged deal that gave it possession of the statue known as “Silent Sam,” which stood on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, along with $2.5 million to maintain it. He vacated the settlement and dismissed the underlying lawsuit brought by the SCV.

Critics had questioned how the deal was quietly struck between the Confederate group and the UNC Board of Governors in a way that allowed the lawsuit and settlement to be filed in quick succession and then approved by Baddour in November 2019, just before Thanksgiving.

Silent Sam stood on the Chapel Hill campus for more than 100 years until protesters toppled it in August 2018. Critics say the statue symbolized racism and white supremacist views, while supporters argue it honored the memory of ancestors who died in the Civil War.

A group of students had challenged the settlement in court. Baddour ruled in December 2019 that the students couldn’t intervene in the case, but he wanted to hear more from the UNC Board of Governors and the Confederate heritage group about whether the group had standing to file the lawsuit in the first place.

To argue the deal was valid, the board and the ancestry group referred to the statue’s origins and argued that members of the SCV were essentially the successors to the people who led the effort to erect the statue that was dedicated in 1913. The United Daughters of the Confederacy had raised money for the statue and gave the monument to the university on the condition that it stand as a permanent memorial, said Ripley Rand, a lawyer for the UNC system governing board. After the statue was torn down, the UDC first asked for the statue back, but then transferred its property rights to the SCV last year, he said.

Rand said the Board of Governors moved quickly to reach an agreement with the SCV because it could have otherwise taken years to resolve a lawsuit.

“The time and uncertainty and the risk involved in waiting on a court to decide these issues was unacceptable to the Board of Governors,” he said, adding: “The message that the Board of Governors received from the university community was clear: ‘We do not want the monument back on campus.’ ”

Boyd Sturges, an attorney for the SCV, said his clients had a valid claim to ownership and thus had standing in court, though he acknowledged the issue was complicated. He also acknowledged that not everyone was happy with the settlement.

“My client’s ultimate issue is honoring the dead from that era,” Sturges told Baddour.

But Baddour rejected the arguments. Ruling from the bench, he said a written order would follow because he had waited to hear the oral arguments before making up his mind.

Sturges said after the hearing that his client would honor the court’s ruling. He said his group has possession of the statue and would need to figure out how to return it to the university. He declined to say where it’s being stored.

Similarly, Rand said in a statement that the Board of Governors also respects Baddour’s decision and “will go back to work” on a lasting solution.

Baddour’s ruling marks the latest development in a long and fraught debate within the campus community about what to do with the statue, and more widely, whether Confederate monuments belong on campuses at all. While the conversation stretches back decades, protests around the UNC statue intensified in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

After Silent Sam was torn down, the university and the Board of Governors, which governs the system’s 17 campuses, spent more than a year grappling with what to do with the monument. During that time, the UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor resigned and the campus police chief who oversaw the response to statue’s toppling retired.

Further complicating the decision-making is a 2015 North Carolina state law restricting the removal of Confederate monuments.

While it’s unclear what will happen to the statue, the legal group that represented the students in challenging the settlement cheered Baddour’s ruling. Kristen Clarke, the executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement: “This is a victory for students and faculty across the University of North Carolina System and for the people of North Carolina who viewed this settlement as fraudulent and the transfer of financing to be in direct conflict with the university’s mission.”