News and Information

April 4, 2012

St. Joseph Medical Center Will Open Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma has received state approval to establish a five-bed Level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where critically ill newborns will receive special medical attention. The NICU will be in addition to the hospital’s 18-bed Level II special care nursery that has served newborns with special needs for about 20 years.

"We are very pleased to be able to provide this enhanced level of care for our most-fragile infants," said Mary LaFalce, associate administrator of women’s services for the Franciscan Health System, which includes St. Joseph Medical Center. "The range of care we offer moms, babies and their families will be better than ever."

Planning for the Level III NICU is underway. Construction is expected to begin later this year at a cost of about $1.6 million.

More than 3,800 babies are born annually at St. Joseph Medical Center, making its birth center the busiest in the South Sound and sixth-busiest in the state. On average, 10 percent of newborns need Level II or Level III intensive care. The length of stay can be a few days to a month or longer depending on the complexity of medical issues.

In the St. Joseph NICU, physicians, nurses and other specially trained health care professionals will provide care for babies born very prematurely (as early as 28 weeks gestation) and as light at 2 pounds 2 ounces. Normal birth occurs at a gestational age of about 40 weeks. Full-term babies weigh an average of 7 pounds.

The NICU team includes neonatologists (physicians who specialize in medical care of newborn infants), neonatal nurse practitioners, consulting specialists, registered and certified nurses, educators, and respiratory therapists that focus on newborns.

The Washington State Department of Health approved St. Joseph’s certificate-of-need for the neonatal intensive care unit on March 29.

"Now, we will be able to provide care for the vast majority of babies born at St. Joseph with special needs," said Kim Deynaka, birth center manager. "They can receive expert medical attention without being transferred to another facility. Transfers can disrupt the continuity of care and create additional emotional and financial stresses for the family."

The NICU broadens the range of services and amenities for birth mothers and their newborns at St. Joseph and other Franciscan hospitals, such as:

  • The maternal-fetal medicine program at St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way provides women in high-risk pregnancies with screenings, first-trimester scans and consults with Franciscan perinatologists (physicians who specialize in complicated pregnancies).

  • Birth centers at St. Joseph, St. Francis and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Enumclaw provide expert, compassionate care in cozy, private rooms.

  • At St. Joseph, women’s choices (supported by their physician) include the water-birth option, midwifery and vaginal birth after cesarean.

  • Members of the Franciscan Lactation Team assist new moms as they begin breastfeeding their newborns.

St. Joseph Medical Center was established in 1891 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. With 361 licensed beds, it is the largest of five hospitals in the Franciscan Health System. Franciscan is part of Catholic Health Initiatives, a national non-profit organization based in Englewood, Colo.

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