Missoula hospitals debate value of competing critical care servi - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Missoula hospitals debate value of competing critical care services for babies

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MISSOULA - One Missoula hospital is pointing proudly at its new unit to give critical care to babies born prematurely, or with health problems, while their competitors across town are raising questions, saying it could be difficult for two units to split the business.

The new Providence St. Patrick Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit offers Level II services, which hospital staff say will be able to offer care for most of the babies that are born there in need of more advanced care.

St. Patrick Hospital opened their Family Medical Center in August of 2015, and have delivered more than 1,200 babies in the seven-bed facility since. Of those, 30 needed to be transported to Community Medical Center for levels II and III NICU care.

Mothers in these cases are often separated from their new baby for a period of time, especially if they are at-risk themselves.

The new unit will begin operating on March 11 with freshly trained staff and a newly recruited neonatologist, Dr. Debra Reed-Thurston, who is overseeing the NICU. She told MTN News the unit will allow their family maternity center to expand its capabilities.

“Unfortunately, babies are delivered that the whole pregnancy may be totally normal, and then something happened, and them needing some support after birth. And without having a NICU here, having the available staff is kind of limited,” Dr. Reed-Thurston said.

Over at Community Medical Center, where they have dominated the market for maternity and neonatal care for years, concern sparked over the past few months as plans for the St. Patrick NICU began to roll out.

Hospital executives say that the competition may force them to eliminate their Level III NICU that provides regional care to the most vulnerable infants.

“While you might think having multiple NICUs in a single location is good for all patients, in this instance, it can actually reduce the level of care for patients. In a high volume medical specialty, such as orthopedic surgery or cardiology, where it is easier to gain and maintain expertise, competition can result in improved quality and lower cost," said CMC Neonatal Intensive Care Services medical director Dr. Bonnie Stephens 

"But in a low volume, highly specialized field such as neonatal intensive care, it is more difficult for neonatal physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists to maintain their skills. Having two hospitals providing NICU services will reduce the capabilities of the providers at both facilities. The quality and safety of neonatal care in Western Montana will decrease," Dr. Stephens added.

St. Patrick Hospital staff say they are not sure at this point how many babies might end up in their NICU this year. Their OBGYNs can also still refer at-risk mothers over to CMC during their pregnancy or for delivery.

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