By Gina Clear
Source: The News-Enterprise
Sharon Wright is taking the next project at Hardin Memorial Hospital personal. In a compelling and emotional presentation Tuesday, the vice president and chief nursing officer detailed the need to add a neonatal intensive care unit to its Birthplace labor and delivery unit.
“It’s very personal,” said Wright. “There are no words to express the connection to me as the mother of premature twins.”
By September, Wright will have her wish. To staff the added unit, the hospital hopes to employ two neonatologists — physicians for newborns — to add to its team of 15 pediatricians, 10 obstetricians and two certified nurse midwifes.
Currently, the hospital is the only Level II nursery provider in its 10-county service area, but in order to practice some of the capabilities, a neonatologist is required, Wright said.
Concluding her presentation, Wright told the hospital’s board of trustees what the NICU would mean to area families using her own experience.
She recounted delivering twins at 25 weeks, each weighing about two pounds. She said her husband’s wedding band could fit over their arms.
Because she was under heavy anesthesia, Wright said she didn’t “remember much of any of (the delivery).”
After their birth, her husband oversaw the boys’ transport to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. Wright experienced some complications from the births, but was able to join the twins about six days later, saying she lived at the hospital for eight weeks.
When she delivered, it was before the age of cellphones, so waiting to get a phone call from her husband was a difficult part of the process, she said.
At the conclusion of that time, she had to return to work as a nurse at Hardin Memorial Hospital because the Family Medical Leave Act did not come into law until 1993.
For the next two months, Wright and her husband would work during the day and travel to Louisville at night.
“We watched them grow in machines,” she said, adding they didn’t hold their sons until they were 6 weeks old.
Eventually, the twins were upgraded to what is called “feeders and growers” where they still were fed by tubes in their nose.
That was 20 years ago.
“It’s a journey that was life changing,” Wright said after the meeting.
Although technology has changed, Wright said premature birth still is a national issue and even more so in Kentucky.
In 2012, the infant mortality rate — deaths per 1,000 live births — was 7.14 in Kentucky compared to 5.98 nationally and the pre-term birth rate was at 12.6 in the state compared to 11.4 nationally.
“In Kentucky, we have an issue with babies being born too early and born too small,” Wright said. “Too many are born at a disadvantage.”
Wright said HMH is ninth in volume of 48 delivering hospitals in Kentucky and 1,655 babies were delivered in 2014, including an increasing number of multiples.
The hospital has “no desire” to compete with Kosair or the Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington, which are the only Level III and IV NICUs in the region.
The goal is to keep babies and their families closer to home, especially when minutes matter, Wright said.
“We have a lot of babies transferred to HMH,” she said. “Many of these babies could stay here (instead of sending them to Louisville or Lexington), but we don’t have those capabilities here.”
Other mothers who deliver at full term choose to go elsewhere to a hospital that has an NICU, just in case complications arise, Wright said.
As part of the program’s implementation, the hospital partnered with the University of Louisville physicians neonatology group to teach and train the doctors hired at HMH.
“I would not advocate for something we thought was unsafe,” Wright said. “If it affects and improves the life of one baby, then it’s worth the journey to make that happen. It’s about the babies.”
A business plan, which includes two renovation phases costing about $606,156, was presented to the hospital’s board of trustees at its Tuesday meeting. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1,010,870.
In its first year, the unit is estimated to have a net revenue of $2,325,801 based solely on Medicaid rates, according to the plan.
“It won’t be that,” HMH president and CEO Dennis Johnson said about the sole funding source.
Its total operating expenses are estimated at $1,972,316 for the first year.
“I’m looking at this and I’m looking for a profit margin,” said Magistrate Garry King. “Don’t get me wrong. We probably owe it to our community to do this.”
County Judge-Executive Harry Berry said the unit could be turning a profit by year three based on administration’s estimates.
“In my mind, if we break even, we profit,” said Magistrate Fred Clem.
The hospital also is pursuing grants from several organizations including Crusade for Children and Kosair to help pay for the unit, said Tracee Troutt, chief development officer for the hospital. The hospital’s foundation also has pledged $15,000, Troutt said.
The plan unanimously was approved.
Although her twins still would have been sent to Kosair, Wright said when her boys reached the feeding and growing stage, they could have returned to HMH where she could have had added support from family and co-workers, if the hospital had an NICU at the time.
By investing in the NICU, all babies will benefit from the added care and technology, Wright said.
“A lot of the decisions we make are based on numbers,” she said. “My commitment comes from deep within a mother’s and nurse’s heart who cares for all patients, especially those who are just beginning life. I have long believed there would be a way for me to give back for all the staff who cared tirelessly for our sons. Supporting this project is an humbling privilege.”