Pikeville Medical Center looks to expand NICU

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WSAZ) - One hospital in the 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 oftentimes since they are not 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 they have not 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 childbirth," 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.