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Hospital awaits OK to expand neonatal care
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Forsyth County News

About a month remains until Northside Hospital-Forsyth finds out if it can add a new level of neonatal care to its women’s center.

In May, the hospital applied to the Georgia Department of Community Health to add a four-bed Level III neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, to the hospital at a cost of nearly $2 million.

The new level would allow the hospital to care for babies born before 32 weeks gestation and at weights of less than 3.4 pounds.

The hospital currently has a Level II special care nursery with 17 bassinets and a 24-bed obstetrical service. But hospital spokesman Russ Davis said the volume of deliveries at the hospital continues to grow, with more than 2,600 last year alone. That was a 22 percent increase over the last four years.

In 2012, about 200 high acuity babies were born at the hospital, which Davis said is more than many of the facilities currently allowed to house a Level III NICU. About 20 of those babies had to be sent to a Level III facility.

Since opening the Women’s Center in August 2008, more than 60 babies have been sent to other facilities. Others, Davis said, are “too unstable to transport, which negatively impacts their quality of care and chances of survival.”

“Our obligation to our maternity patients is to provide the highest level of care and support for newborns who are delivered at Northside Hospital-Forsyth,” Davis said. “Providing a Level III NICU for some of the most fragile newborns will provide them with the very best chance at life and one with fewer long-term complications.”

The plan doesn’t call for new construction, but rather the renovation of existing space on the second floor of the hospital’s Women’s Center.

The project also would consolidate all special care nursery beds into one location, improving efficiency, Davis said. About 3,000 square feet of space would be renovated.

If approved by the state, Davis said construction could be completed within six months from receiving a building permit. Barring any delays, the service would be available in fall 2014.

However, at least one competing hospital has opposed the expansion and, if others join WellStar Kennestone, it could take longer.

WellStar is slated to make its opposing argument Wednesday, but will compete against more than 2,000 letters of support the hospital has garnered. The state’s decision is expected Sept. 24.