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New Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Will Serve Southeastern Kentucky


May 03, 2021 Posted in: Health & Wellness

Mother-baby bonding at birth is critical for the physical and emotional health of new moms and infants alike.

For babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), bonding may happen through hearing their mother’s voice, feeling her presence or receiving breast milk. If a baby is hours away receiving care, however, this important work is not as easy to achieve.

“Infants born at Saint Joseph London in need of specialized care now must be taken to a facility with a NICU more than an hour’s drive from their families to get the care they need,” said John Yanes, president, Saint Joseph London. “This creates a significant hardship for the mother and family.”

Last fall, the Saint Joseph London Foundation received a $990,510 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to establish a Level II NICU at the hospital. Combined with $243,000 in funding from WHAS Crusade for Children and proceeds raised through the London Gala for Hope the past three years, the NICU project is now fully funded.

“The new NICU will serve southeastern Kentucky and will allow those babies to stay close to home and close to their parents for that important bonding time in the early days of their lives,” Yanes said.

Construction on the $1.4 million project is expected to begin in the next few months. Saint Joseph London will be one of only two hospitals in southeastern Kentucky with both a birthing center and NICU. The NICU will provide highly specialized clinical services to more than 100 patients annually who would otherwise have to be transported 90 miles away to receive treatment.

“We undertook a significant fundraising initiative to construct, equip and staff the Saint Joseph London neonatal intensive care unit because of the dire need for this level of specialty care for medically fragile infants and their families living in Appalachia,” said Leslie Smart, CFRE, president, Saint Joseph London Foundation. “A NICU will have a life-changing and positive impact for our tiniest patients.”

With the construction and renovation of the 4,630 square foot space adjacent to the existing labor and delivery area, there will be an additional six beds in private rooms to foster family-centered care and recovery. The project also includes construction of four critical care bays and two private rooms. It will equip the rooms with necessary equipment to serve babies born prematurely or with special needs, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Charles Barton, MD, an OB-GYN in London, said the London area includes many mothers who have risk factors that make a NICU so critical, including maternal diabetes, hypertension, drug addiction and teenage pregnancy. The new NICU will also allow for the hospital’s staff to educate new parents and teach them skills like swaddling and high-risk infant care.

“It’s just amazing for the moms who don’t have a lot of the skills to take care of these babies. We can offer them the opportunity to learn,” Dr. Barton said. “Now they can learn those skills and take them home.”

Before the NICU’s completion, Saint Joseph London was equipped to handle babies who were at least four pounds and at 35 weeks gestation, while smaller babies had to receive care elsewhere. Now, more babies can soon receive care close to home.

The teaching capabilities of the new NICU and presence of a nearby neonatal intensive care will make a profound difference in the London community.

“These are women who really need help and are really thankful,” Dr. Barton said. “I think we’ll be able to see the positive outcomes for years to come.”


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