Hospitals form plan to help sick infants

Two competing hospitals work together so that sick babies can be treated locally during the strike.
YOUNGSTOWN -- St. Elizabeth Health Center and Tod Children's Hospital often cooperate, but they are competitors when it comes to neonatal intensive care.
That's why an agreement for the neonatology departments of Tod and St. Elizabeth's to work together during the Forum Health registered nurses strike is out of the ordinary.
The plan, according to Dr. Robert Felter, medical director of Tod, will assure that premature infants born in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys will not have to leave the region if they need the services of a neonatal intensive care unit.
"We're not going to play St. E's vs. Forum with babies," Felter said.
What's behind this: With Forum nurses on the picket line, there's a possibility that either hospital could be overwhelmed with neonatal ICU cases, he explained.
Although St. Elizabeth's has seen only a moderate increase in obstetrics cases since the strike began Tuesday, the numbers could grow if the Forum walkout goes on for long, he said.
And Tod, which has a crew of replacement nurses from outside the area working with its regular practical nurses and supervisory nursing staff, could be overwhelmed if it gets a number of very complex neonatal ICU cases.
The two hospitals have a "very unique situation" in that both are able to provide a high level of neonatal care, said Dr. Elena Rossi, director of neonatology and chairman of pediatrics at St. Elizabeth.
Tod and St. Elizabeth's work together in the pediatrics area, with Tod generally providing a higher level of care for more critical cases, "but we are definitely competitors in neonatology," she said.
"This is about putting the babies and their families first."
How this will work: Under the plan, medical personnel would call the partner hospital if their neonatal ICU staff needed assistance.
Babies needing care, in most cases, could be transported the few blocks to the partner hospital instead of having to be transported to Akron, Pittsburgh or Cleveland.
Rossi said transporting babies to a hospital an hour away adds risk for the infants and separates them from their families.
The goal is to treat the babies locally, unless their situation requires treatment at a facility outside the area.
Together, Felter said, St. Elizabeth and Tod can accommodate about 50 neonatal ICU patients.
He said spring is typically a low census period for Tod, but winter and summer are the busiest times, and he believes that is why the census has been on the low side since the nurses strike began.
The hospital has 97 beds and a census which fluctuates between 60 and 100.

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