Health Care

Truman Med Center gets $10M, its largest-ever donation to help its smallest patients

Electronic medical records at Truman Medical Center

Truman Medical Center, like thousands of other hospitals across the country, has used federal funds to transform paper medical records into digital documents. (Video by Scott Canon)
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Truman Medical Center, like thousands of other hospitals across the country, has used federal funds to transform paper medical records into digital documents. (Video by Scott Canon)

When Ashley Nieuwsma gave birth to premature triplets last year, they had to stay several weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit at Truman Medical Center.

They came out of the stay perfectly healthy, but it wasn’t always comfortable for their parents in the cramped unit.

“There were a few times I had to step out because there just wasn’t enough room for me,” the triplets’ dad, Aaron Nieuwsma, said. “Other times we were just really crammed in a small area, especially when you have three.”

Future preemies and their families should have more elbow room.

Truman officials on Thursday announced a record $10 million donation from the Sunderland Foundation that gets them more than halfway to their goal of raising $18.8 million to revamp and expand the neo-natal intensive care unit.

The current unit has 19 beds partitioned by curtains in a 5,000 square foot space. The goal of the fundraising campaign is to expand that to 29 private rooms in a 20,000 square foot space.

An artist’s rendition of the new neo-natal intensive care unit rooms planned for Truman Medical Center. Andy Marso

“Having a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU is something no parent wants to imagine,” Truman CEO Charlie Shields said in a prepared statement. “But thanks to very generous donations, the skilled team that expertly cares for these babies — and their families — will now be able to care for even more infants in a much larger, more private space.”

Truman also received a pledge of $2.5 million from the Hall Family Foundation and smaller amounts from other individuals. In all, about $14 million has already been committed for the campaign.

The Sunderland Foundation is known for donating to big Kansas City area construction projects. Last year it gave $66 million to outfit the University of Kansas Hospital’s blood cancer treatment center in the new Cambridge Tower. And it donated $75 million toward a research tower under construction at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Nearly half of Kansas City babies born are delivered at Truman, which, as the safety net hospital for Jackson County, treats all residents of the county regardless of their ability to pay.

Its NICU is a Level III unit, which cares for babies born prior to 32 weeks of pregnancy or weighing less than 3.3 pounds, or babies of higher weight or age who need a ventilator or are otherwise critically ill.

Truman is also connected by a skyway to the Level IV NICU at Children’s Mercy Hospital, where staff can perform complex surgeries like organ transplants.

Joshua Petrikin, a neonatologist at Children’s Mercy and the chairman of pediatrics at Truman, said the Level III unit has adequate staff and technology to handle 90 percent of NICU babies.

But it doesn’t always have the space to let families spend the quality time with newborns that research has shown helps them thrive.

“Now we recognize how important it is to foster the bonding between parent and baby right from the beginning, and our current space doesn’t allow us to do that,” Petrikin said. “The new one will.”

Ashley Nieuwsma, herself a labor and delivery nurse, said she received great care, but the aftermath of the triplets’ birth was chaotic, especially since she and Aaron already had seven other kids under age 14.

“I think it was just all hands on deck,” she said. “We were kind of in survival mode.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.