Flagler Wants to Upgrade for Babies; Hospital Seeks State Approval So It Can Treat Premature Infants

By Cox, Jeremy | The Florida Times Union, December 10, 2008 | Go to article overview

Flagler Wants to Upgrade for Babies; Hospital Seeks State Approval So It Can Treat Premature Infants


Cox, Jeremy, The Florida Times Union


Byline: JEREMY COX

Amy Taylor found out the hard way that the hospital where she delivered her son wasn't equipped to treat him.

Shortly after the boy's birth last year, pediatricians at St. Augustine's Flagler Hospital discovered that a small pocket of air had developed between one of his lungs and his chest cavity.

Flagler's neonatal unit is a level I, meaning it can only handle healthy, full-term babies. So an ambulance shuttled Taylor's newborn 50 miles away to Shands Jacksonville, where doctors placed a tube in his chest to relieve the excess air.

Taylor's child was one of 43 babies born at Flagler in 2007 who had to be transferred to other hospitals because they needed a higher level of care. Depending on a state regulatory ruling Friday, that number may be reduced in the future.

Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration is weighing the St. Augustine hospital's request to upgrade its neonatal intensive care unit from a level I to a level II. The new seven-bed facility would enable the hospital to treat babies born prematurely and those who need to be put on a respirator, said Miguel Mas, a pediatrician in Flagler's nursery.

And it would eliminate a 75-mile gap between the existing neonatal unit at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach and the recently approved unit at Baptist South at the southern edge of Duval County (set to open in June), Flagler administrators say. If approved, Flagler's unit would open in 2010.

In a rare letting-down of the competitive guard, Flagler's application has drawn letters of support from, among others, Baptist Health's chief executive Hugh Greene and Putnam Community Medical Center's chief executive Bruce Baldwin. Furthermore, the new unit would be staffed by University of Florida physicians.

"They see this isn't a competition thing," said Jason Barrett, Flagler's chief operating officer. "They see this as what's best for the community."

The 43 transfers were a small portion of the 1,235 births at Flagler, to be sure. But that figure doesn't account for the 125 mothers who were moved to higher-level facilities before giving birth, Barrett said.

Here's what happens when a sick baby is born at Flagler: Pediatricians work to stabilize the baby, providing resuscitation if necessary. Then, a transport team whisks the child by ambulance or helicopter, depending on severity, to one of three intensive-care units: Shands Jacksonville, Baptist Medical Center in downtown Jacksonville or Shands Hospital in Gainesville. …

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