Detail of “Exchanging Butterflies,” a print by artist Paula Schuette Kraemer that will occupy four floor-to-ceiling panels at the Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women. Kraemer says she hopes the work “cheers people or helps them deal with whatever might be on their mind.”
Writer: Jody Gifford
You need read only the first few sentences of Frank Comfort’s obituary to understand whom he admired most during his lifetime.
“Frank Bittorf ‘Bit’ Comfort, 88, passed away on October 26, 2012. He was born on May 11, 1924, Mother’s Day. He always felt this led to his devotion to the women in his life: his mother, grandmother, sister, aunts, two daughters and two wives.”
Surrounded by strong women, Comfort, who was an attorney with Nyemaster Goode, made it his mission to honor and care for them during and after his lifetime. That devotion is what made the new Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women—scheduled to open in mid-April—a reality in Central Iowa.
The new center, occupying 34,000 square feet on the first level of the Mercy West Medical Clinic at 1601 N.W. 114th St. in Clive, was funded by an $8.5 million lead gift from the Comfort Family Foundation. The health center will be dedicated to meeting the needs of midlife women, says Leisha Barcus, the center’s director.
“It’s an idea that Mercy has had for many years—the need for a comprehensive women’s center,” Barcus says. “Women are looking for health care that makes them feel empowered, that’s specialized to them. Busy women especially put their health care last behind everybody else’s needs. This is a way for women to start putting themselves first.”
The only one of its kind in the Midwest, the Mercy Comfort Health Center will connect women to preventive and specialty medical services under one roof, such as breast health care, incontinence and urologic care, medical imaging, sexual and menopausal support, internal medicine, weight loss and nutrition, behavioral health, dermatology and plastic surgery.
Dr. Carrie Holmes, a staff physician at the Comfort Health Center, says she has seen an increasing need among women for comprehensive and coordinated health care and is excited to offer it to patients.
I love taking care of men and children, but the bulk of my patients have been women, so the biggest appeal for me is that I would be focusing on what I enjoy the most in primary care,” she says. “I saw this as another way to offer high-quality care and guidance in a woman’s life when it really matters.”
Holmes says the response to news of the center has exceeded her expectations. “I’ve been hearing a lot of ‘It’s about time.’ ‘When can I make an appointment?’ ‘I can’t wait until it opens!’ A lot of questions, too,” she says. “It’s really resonating with people already.”
Shannon Cofield, president of the Mercy Foundation, said the Comfort Health Center might never have happened without the generosity of the Comfort Family Foundation.
“For this to be his legacy speaks so much to who Frank was,” she says. “It makes total sense why he would leave this legacy gift to Mercy to establish this gift to women.”
Sense of Serenity
Much care has been taken in the design of the center.
The attention to detail covers all things, big and small. Workspaces are open, creating an opportunity for collaboration and consultation among team members, while patient spaces incorporate neutral tones, natural lighting, artwork and music to provide a spa-like ambience.
Barcus says designers were asked to create spaces that would give patients a sense of serenity from check-in to checkout. “What we’ve created is a really comfortable, caring, healing environment,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of research and being very mindful of what we choose to enhance the space.”
The most prominent artwork comes from printmaker Paula Schuette Kraemer, a former Iowan now based in Wisconsin. Visible through the center’s tall glass windows, her prints “Exchanging Butterflies” and “Hand Game” will each occupy four floor-to-ceiling panels, with each panel measuring approximately 10 feet by 17 feet.
Schuette Kraemer says the work has personal meaning to her. “Exchanging Butterflies” illustrates anxiety and taking on the burden of others, while “Hand Game” was drawn in honor of her mother and a game they played when she was a child.
“I like the idea that a lot of my work hangs in hospitals or other medical clinics,” she says. “I hope that it cheers people or helps them deal with whatever might be on their mind.”
Partnership With Artists
In addition to Schuette Kraemer’s pieces, the work of four other female artists will hang on the walls because of a partnership between Mercy and Olson-Larsen Galleries in West Des Moines.
Susan Watts, Olson-Larsen’s owner, says she was approached last year about recommending female artists whose work could be featured at the center. From her initial vetting, Mercy chose Allison Svoboda, Jeanine Coupe Ryding, Anna Lambrini Moisiadis and Susan Chrysler White—all from the Midwest with ties to Iowa. The artwork was purchased by donors and given to the Comfort Health Center to be hung in its public spaces.
“Artwork is such an important thing in so many environments, but especially health care,” Watts says.
“This is a clinic, but they don’t want it to feel clinical. That’s such an important thing. It shows that they really care about their patients and making them feel a certain way. It’s very purposeful.”
With completion of the center approaching, Cofield believes that if Frank Comfort were still alive, he’d see it as testament not only to the women in his life, but to women everywhere.
“I think he would be beyond proud that we honored his intent in this way,” Cofield says. “The level of his gift spoke volumes about what Frank cared about most. To have a one-stop shop like the Comfort Center will be helpful to a lot of women.”