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With $10 Million Gift, Truman Medical Centers Launches Campaign To Modernize Its NICU

Dan Margolies
KCUR 89.3
These triplets were born at Truman and treated in its NICU. Left to right: Dr. Joshua Petrikin; Ashley Nieuwsma, mother of the triplets; Mayra Aguirre of the Hall Family Foundation; and Truman's Connie Potts, Dawn Cox and CEO Charlie Shields.

Buoyed by the biggest gift in its history, $10 million from the Sunderland Foundation, Truman Medical Centers on Thursday launched an ambitious campaign to raise nearly $19 million to upgrade its neonatal intensive care unit.

The push to modernize and expand Truman's NICU has locked in pledges of $14 million, according to hospital officials. That includes additional commitments of $2.5 million from the Hall Family Foundation and other contributors such as Waddell and Reed CEO Phil Sanders, the president of Truman’s board. 

Credit Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3
Truman's NICU dates to 1976, when it was regarded as state-of-the-art.

The current NICU, at 5,000 square feet and a capacity for 19 incubators, has become cramped and overcrowded. It dates to 1976, when Truman’s Hospital Hill facility near downtown Kansas City was built.

“Our current NICU has 19 isolettes all in one room that is, frankly, about the size of this room, and it limits the number of babies that we can actually help to that 19,” Truman President and CEO Charlie Shields said at a news conference Thursday in one of the hospital’s small  boardrooms.

“But it also, equally important, limits families’ privacy and the ability to spend valuable time with their newborns.”

The new NICU will be four times larger at 20,000 square feet, have room for up to 29 incubators and provide individual rooms for families rather than the current open-floor arrangement. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2020 and take about six months. 

Dr. Joshua Petrikin, medical director of Truman’s NICU, said that the current NICU, while once regarded as a state-of-the-art facility, doesn’t facilitate the bonding between baby and parent now regarded as crucial in a baby’s early development.

“Our current space doesn’t allow us to do that adequately, but our new space will,” Petrikin said. 

Truman, a safety net and teaching hospital, claims that about half the babies born in Kansas City, Missouri, are delivered at Truman. Its NICU treats as many as 700 babies annually, about half of them requiring the highest level of care.

Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3
As part of its campaign to raise money for its new NICU, Truman Medical Centers gave out these diapers used for babies in the NICU.

Truman partners with Children’s Mercy Hospital, whose Level IV NICU connects to Truman’s Level III NICU via a skybridge across Holmes Street.  Level IV NICUs provide the highest level of neonatal care, including neonatal surgery. Level III NICUs care for babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation as well as those born with critical illnesses.  

Truman handles the vast majority of labor and delivery for Children’s Mercy, which performs deliveries only when the life of the baby is at risk.  

“When moments matter, being steps away by that bridge to Children’s Mercy is really critical,” Kirk Isenhour, executive director of the TMC Foundation, said at the news conference.

To make room for the new NICU, Truman’s primary care and women’s health clinics will vacate the main Hospital Hill facility and move across the street to the new Truman office complex now under construction at 22nd and Charlotte streets. That building, estimated to cost $67 million, is expected to open a year from now.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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