Wheeling Hospital Announces New Plan to Care for Premature Babies

Wheeling Hospital announced this morning it will soon have the ability to care for premature and seriously ill infants with the use of a full-time neonatologist.

The service is being made possible via a partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, which is part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Judy Romano, director of Wheeling’s Center for Pediatrics, said babies born as young as 32 weeks, which is two months premature, will be cared for at the Special Care Nursery.

Now premature babies born in Wheeling will not have to be transferred to another hospital in Pittsburgh, Columbus or Morgantown with neonatal units, she said.

“We all expect the same thing with the birth of a child – a beautiful healthy baby. And when that goes off track because the baby is born early or the baby is ill, it is devastating for a mother and father and family,” she said.

The neonatologist, who will be named in the future, will live in Wheeling and keep office hours at the hospital. When not in the office, hospital staff can use telemedicine, which is a two-way video, to talk with neonatal staff at Children’s Hospital.

“That person will not only be providing direct patient care to our infants, but that person will be developing policy and will help us be on the cutting edge of neonatology and services for children,” Romano said. “We will not require a whole new nursing staff for the Special Care Nursery. Our nurses will be able to have extra training in these areas.”

The Center for Pediatrics has been caring for babies born as young as 35 weeks.

“This will allow us to keep 80 percent of our premature births,” Romano said.

Ron Violi, Wheeling Hospital chief executive officer, described the service as a “break through” for the hospital, noting the Ohio Valley has never had its own neonatal unit before.

He said since coming to Wheeling, it was something he had pushed for from the beginning.

Romano anticipates there will be a high demand for the neonatal services because since adding other subspecialties in pediatrics, the hospital “can hardly keep up with the demand.”

“We’ve blown the numbers out of the water with everything that we have started. I think it becomes one of those situations that if you build it they will come. And that has certainly been the case,” she said.

Dr. Catherine Coleman, an obstetrician/gynecologist, commented the unit will help families who cannot afford to travel to hospitals in other cities where their premature babies are being cared for.

“We have families that can’t afford to visit their children in Pittsburgh because they can’t afford to pay the parking fee. This really is going to be a service … for families in the valley,” she said.