UPDATE | Pikeville Medical Center gets funding to expand NICU

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 1/21/20 @ 8:30 p.m.
When a baby is born prematurely, time is of the essence when it comes to getting the innocent life necessary medical attention.

Pikeville Medical Center has applied for a certificate of need, or CON, to add eight additional beds to the NICU.

While Pikeville Medical Center’s NICU has been able to cater to most of those treatments, they haven’t been able to for every child, especially if they were born before a certain gestational period.

But thanks to a certification of need that the hospital applied for in August, the NICU has now doubled the beds they had, and went up a level in treatment. That means PMC can now treat babies born at around 29 weeks instead of 32 like before.

“This is a major plus for the whole area” said Tondra Blevins, director for the Women and Children’s Unit. She says before, they’ve had to send babies to bigger and hospitals farther away for medical care. However, with the new beds and advanced care level, they won’t have to.

“These babies have to stay six, eight, even 10 weeks or longer in a facility like that and financially that is a huge, huge burden for the parents.“

It’s also an emotional toll, Blevins explains. She says she’s seen many cases when families are split apart while the mother stays with the baby in a facility far from home, while the father stays behind to care for other children.

The beds are not all ready to roll out just yet. The NICU staff will be trained on the beds and new technology. They will also have to hire additional staff.

ORIGINAL STORY 8/28/19 @ 6:36 p.m.
One hospital in our region is looking to expand its services in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU.

Pikeville Medical Center has applied for a certificate of need, or CON, to add eight additional beds to the NICU.

Applying for that CON would also allow them to become an advanced level 2 neonatal unit, which would allow them to treat babies born as early as 28 weeks, rather than 32 weeks.

According to Dr. Aaron Crum, the Chief Medical Officer, the hospital almost always operates at capacity.

"We've gotten so busy in other areas that we are having to send babies other places to be delivered to get care provided that we can actually provide here," Crum said. "We just haven't had the ability to do it because of licensing."

Hospital staff says about seven babies are born each day at the hospital, and a lot of those babies are born prematurely.

"We have a lot of high risk patients for prematurity," Crum said. "We have a lot of diseases, common health problems in eastern Kentucky that leads to a need of neonatal care. The need is definitely there for us."

"The prematurity rate is not changing, it's not getting better," said Dr. Todd Hambleton, a neonatologist. "I think in general the rates in this area are higher."

According to Dr. Crum, adding beds and expanding care will allow babies to be born at other hospitals and then transferred to Pikeville so those babies can be closer to their families.

He says often times, since they aren't able to treat before 32 weeks because of licensing, if they know a baby is going to be born before that, they will transfer the mothers out to deliver at a different hospital.

"We will have a chance to take care of those babies earlier and keep the moms and the families here," said Dr. Crum.

He says the medical center has always had the capability, staff and equipment to provide a higher level of care, but because of licensing, haven't been able to offer those services.

Tondra Blevins has worked in the NICU for many years. She says the expansion would help to lift a huge burden for mothers and for their families.

"You've went through child birth," Blevins said. "You're tired. Your baby is in a special care unit. You are anxious and worried. You want to be here. You want to be with your family. You want to be close to your baby. So to be able to extend this level of care and expand our beds is going to offer that opportunity, not just for people in our area, but in surrounding areas."

The hospital is hoping to hear back on the certificate of need by the beginning of 2020.

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