Grand Stand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has launched a new neonatology program that has been in the works for about a year. The hospital is working to recruit two permanent, local neonatologists. Until those positions can be filled, neonatologists from other counties in South Carolina are working at the hospital, making Grand Stand Medical Center the only hospital in Horry County to have a neonatologist either in the hospital or on-call at all times.
Dr. Art Shepard, the Sheridan neonatologist who worked on staff at the hospital during the first week of the new program, told local ABC News affiliate WPDE that the hospital delivers about 1,000 babies a year, and that 8-10 percent of all babies need specialty neonatal care. “If babies need respiratory support or prolonged tube feeding, for example, because they're early those babies would ordinarily have to go to [a NICU in] Charleston or Florence, and so that's about a hundred babies a year that have to leave just for those reasons," Shepard said. Because Grand Strand has a level II nursery and not a NICU, he explained, some seriously ill babies will still need to be transported to either the Florence or Charleston NICUs.
"We can take care of babies as young as 32 weeks gestational, so about 8 weeks early, we can take babies that are as small as 1500 grams at birth, which is about 3 1/2 pounds, and we can maintain babies on mechanical ventilation for as long as 24 hours,” he continued. “If babies are smaller than that, less mature than that, or require more respiratory therapy than that, they still need to go to the regional perinatal center."
Both Shepard and OB/GYN Dr. Tracey Golden are excited that more babies will be able to be treated locally, near their mothers and families. "We are looking forward to the opportunity to keep those babies here. Keeping babies and moms together is so important. It's important to facilitate breast feeding, we want to encourage that. And keeping families together is the best way to get a family off to a healthy start," Shepard said. Golden added, "It's priceless, because unfortunately the NICUS are at least an hour and a half to two hours from this local region, and for many families that means they're taken away from their other children or their support network."
Emerald Rabon, who has a high-risk, complicated pregnancy, is comforted by the availability of a neonatologist at the hospital. “I'm going to be delivering really early, and she's going to be super small and not as developed, so that's even more scary," she told WPDE. After meeting with Dr. Shepard, she was reassured to learn that even if her baby girl arrives weeks early, there’s a good change she will be able to remain in Myrtle Beach. "You think of a pregnancy and the baby just pops out and they're doing great and mine is going to be hooked up to machine and tubes going in and out of her. It's scary," she said.