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Suburban seeking to add neonatal ICU; Hospital wants to convert 10 existing beds into unit for newborns

Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital plans to install a 10-bed neonatal intensive care unit in a partnership with Women & Children's Hospital.

The 261-bed hospital in Amherst reported Wednesday that it has filed a certificate of need application with the state Health Department for the project.

To create the unit, which specializes in the care of ill or premature newborns, Millard Fillmore Suburban will convert six maternity beds, two rehabilitation beds and two critical-care beds, officials said.

The project also includes renovations to create a suite for the new service on the second floor, adjacent to the existing labor and delivery program. This will eliminate the need for some at-risk newborns to be transported to Women & Children's and risk further medical complications, officials said.

"We're enhancing the staff, with a higher level of neonatology and nursing hours, and the quality. There is going to be a clinical integration with the pediatric specialists at Women & Children's," said Chris Lane, president of Millard Fillmore Suburban.

In New York, hospital services for pregnant women and their newborns are organized in four levels.

Level 1 hospitals provide care to normal and low-risk pregnant women and newborns, but they do not operate neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.

Level 2 hospitals, including Sisters in Buffalo, provide care to women and newborns at moderate risk and have NICUs.

Level 3 hospitals, including Mercy in South Buffalo, care for patients requiring increasingly complex care and also operate NICUs.

Finally, regional perinatal centers, such as Women & Children's, are equipped and staffed to provide all the services and expertise required by the most acutely sick or at-risk patients. About 740 newborns are admitted to the Women & Children's NICU annually, and, of those, more than 200 are transferred to the hospital, according to Kaleida Health.

Millard Fillmore Suburban currently takes care of babies delivered at 34 weeks or later. The Level 2 NICU would allow it to handle infants born at 32 weeks or later.

"The two-week difference is a big deal, because during those weeks there is a lot of activity in the maturity of the baby," Lane said.

The difference is large enough, he said, that some physicians opt out of using Millard Fillmore Suburban for certain patients.

Both Women & Children's and Millard Fillmore Suburban are part of the Kaleida Health hospital system.

Lane said the project will cost about $2 million, will be funded from operating capital and, if approved, will likely be completed by early 2013.