Public hearing held for LewisGale hospital application to add NICU

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LewisGale Medical Center has once again applied to open a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after several unsuccessful attempts. Several spoke in favor of the NICU, including one mother whose infant died.

The proposed project submitted to the Virginia Department of Health would introduce a NICU and add up to eight specialty-level bassinets to their facility at 1900 Electric Road in Salem, Virginia.

In Virginia, if a hospital wants to add newborn services like a NICU, it has to be approved by the health commissioner. 

The public hearing was held at noon at the Salem Public Library on October 8. 

According to the hospital website, the hospital explained a NICU at LewisGale is important to reduce the number of babies transferred to another hospital after birth. They said this important because the first hour of a newborn baby’s life is critical and should not be consumed by transfers, among other reasons. 

One mother, Jennifer Kidder, who delivered her daughter at LewisGale Medical Center shared her sad experience at the hearing. She said her daughter, Scarlett Rose, had to be transferred to another hospital and sadly died the following day. 

“My sweet baby had to be driven 5.7 miles across town to the closest NICU, which at any time of day could be an upwards of 20 plus minutes, depending on traffic. My husband left to be with her,” Kidder told the crowd gathered at the public hearing. 

She talked about wanting to go to be with her baby but was told she couldn’t leave because she just had surgery and there were transportation issues with the insurance company. 

“I was mentally and physically exhausted and still not understanding the full capacity of what my body had just gone through,” she said.

“Yet, there was not one ounce of me that was not ready to get up and walk out of that hospital and drive myself to Carilion,” Kidder said, explaining that eventually, a friend offered to drive her. 

She said her daughter was diagnosed with a stage-4 brain tumor and had no hope of survival.

“I was willing to sacrifice my own health just to be with her in her last minutes of life. Had I known what I was walking into that day, I would’ve gone to Carilion to begin with.”

Kidder explained her baby Scarlett’s story isn’t every babies story born at LewisGale, she explained other babies are born with a chance at life. 

“Those babies mothers shouldn’t have to think about risking their own lives to get to their child. If LewisGale had a NICU that would no longer be an issue.”

State Senator of Virginia John Edwards attended the hearing and spoke in favor of the application approved to add a NICU to LewisGale Medical Center. 

Several LewisGale physicians shared passionate stories about losing babies who needed NICU services. Dr. John Harding said the hospital needs a NICU to prevent any more baby deaths.

Dr. Harding said a couple of years back a woman went into labor at 24 weeks and the baby needed to go to Carilion, but the transfer team wasn’t available.

“With the help of doctor Delany in the back, and some great anesthesiologist we did what we could, but that baby died.  And not a month ago, repeat story, 23 and a half weeks, labor, can’t do anything. That baby died,” said Dr. Harding.

Another mentioned the emotional and physical stress that comes with transferring the sick newborns. 

Carilion Clinic said they do not oppose of LewisGale’s application.

A spokesman released the following statement:

We value the collaborative relationship we have with HCA Lewis Gale, centered around the needs of our patients and communities.

We understand Lewis Gale is again interested in a regional NICU for its hospitals that would be situated at Lewis Gale Medical Center in Salem.

In general, we agree with HCA that the Virginia Department of Health, Division of Certificate of Public Need, is in the best position to determine need for additional services under the purview of the state’s COPN regulations, including NICU beds to serve this region, and whether to grant a Certificate.

With that in mind, we do not oppose their application.

The medical center is expecting a ruling as early as the end of December and by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

If their application is approved they will offer services as soon as 2020. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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