After more than a decade of planning, advocating and legislating, LewisGale dedicates NICU
Officials at LewisGale Medical Center cut the ribbon on a neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital in Salem Tuesday.
Though the atmosphere was celebratory, Dr. John Harding couldn’t help but think about what motivated him to keep fighting through a decade-long state regulatory process—the death of a newborn because the only nearby NICU at the time wasn’t available.
"And that’s been on my heart for many years," Harding told reporters as he fought back tears. "And this is going to change that outcome."
LewisGale first tried to get a NICU approved by the state in 2011. "In the beginning, it seemed like a no brainer," Harding remembered. "We have the money, the desire, everything we need. We just needed that check mark."
Harding, hospital officials, and other advocates tried to navigate a complicated state regulatory process.
"Most health care facility expansions require a Certificate of Public Need," State Senator David Suetterlein explained. "And often they’re very challenging to get."
The Certificate of Public Need process has been a part of Virginia's health care landscape since the 1970's. It was designed to control the number of facilities and services offered in various regions of the state.
"And for several years, the health commissioner routinely rejected LewisGale’s Certificate of Public Need," Suetterlein noted.
He and other senators representing the Roanoke area, including John Edwards, eventually shepherded bipartisan legislation to reform the Certificate of Public Need process and to get LewisGale’s NICU approved. It finally happened in late 2021.
"It definitely took way too long. But it’s a great day," Suetterlein said.
The facility has six beds and a staff of neonatologists to treat newborns with any number of complications. Construction on the $2.5 million facility took about a year. Doctors say the unit will keep newborns and mothers together during the important first hours and days of life. Previously, newborns with serious complications had to be transferred to Carilion’s NICU in Roanoke.
"It’s kind of a security blanket," Harding explained. "You can go into what looks like an uncomplicated delivery and all of the sudden it goes off the rails. And we need that specialty care and now they’re here 24-7."