RICHLAND -- Kadlec Regional Medical Center officials learned on Wednesday the state has approved a planned expansion of its neonatal intensive care unit.
The Richland hospital applied to the state last year to add six beds to the unit and to officially designate Kadlec as a Level III neonatal unit -- meaning the hospital could care for the most critically ill and extremely premature babies -- but had to prove a community need before the state would sign off on the plan.
Kelly Harper, Kadlec's maternal child services manager, said the Level III designation from the state recognizes that the hospital is capable of providing quality medical care to infants.
A hearing in December drew dozens of supporters testifying in support of the project.
"This is great news for our community and region," Dr. Anthony Hadeed, the NICU's medical director, said Wednesday.
"We have seen our patient demand grow significantly," Hadeed said. "The state's decision will give us a much needed ability to grow to meet the needs of our patients."
With the state approval, Kadlec can begin designing the $10.8 million NICU expansion that would bring the unit to 27 beds from 15 critical care beds and six overflow beds.
That would allow 15 beds for Level III care, allowing space to care for most critically ill infants, and 12 beds for Level II intermediate nursery care.
The expansion is expected to be finished in 2013, according to the state documents.
The NICU approval comes separately from an application by Kadlec to add 114 adult care beds to its existing 188-bed capacity.
The state looked at occupancy data submitted to the Comprehensive Hospital Abstract Reporting System, or CHARS, database, and determined that in 2007, Kadlec's NICU was averaging about 80 percent full for the 15 critical care beds, or 57 percent full if the six overflow beds were included.
A statewide health plan sets the occupancy standard for obstetrics services statewide at 55 percent, according to the state's analysis.
Projections provided by the hospital indicated that by 2010, the NICU would be averaging about 17 beds being used per day.
On Wednesday, Hadeed said there were 18 beds being used, and that the average tends to be 18 to 21, making the unit full much of the time.
The decision of community need was based in part on population projections for Benton and Franklin counties. Kadlec officials have argued that a high estimate is warranted in the rapidly growing Tri-Cities.
In this case, the state Certificate of Need program used a medium estimate because of the historical population fluctuations in the area going back to 1960.
"Historical trends (1960-2000) indicate that both Benton and Franklin counties have a tendency to fluctuate dramatically, making long-term projections with either the high or low series less applicable," the decision said.
That could have implications for Kadlec's pending 114-bed application, as well as a concurrent application by Kennewick General Hospital to add 25 beds, as hospital officials have said using the medium population numbers will result in fewer beds being approved for adult care.
But for now Kadlec officials are celebrating a decision that will allow more premature babies and sick infants to be treated locally instead of going to Spokane or Seattle.
Hadeed said that keeps families together and allows mothers and infants to bond during early, critical stages of development.
"That is all much easier in the Tri-Cities than somewhere else," he said.
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com