The hospital wing is small, but so are its patients. The 1,850-square-foot Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center currently cares for around 20 tiny newborns—many attached to feeding tubes and heart monitors and resting in plastic bassinets. Only curtains divide each infant and care area. There are no private rooms and no access to natural light.
Despite its size, Franklin Square's NICU has developed a reputation for quality specialized care. It is the only facility in northeastern Maryland to maintain Level III-B status, which allows the hospital to care for babies under 1 pound. It has also been honored for family-centered care by the March of Dimes.
On Tuesday, the hospital kicked off a campaign to enlarge its NICU to 7,985 square feet, with 22 private rooms, including a negative pressure room, access to natural light for sensory development, in-room parent sleeping spaces, enhanced monitoring systems and upgraded air handling capabilities.
"It's small, it's way too small, our babies and our families deserve better. Our staff deserves better. The community that Franklin Square Medical Center serves deserves better. That's why we're here today, because today is the day to commit to a NICU that provides a better environment for the more than 300 families we take care of every year," Dr. Fernando V. Mena, Section Chief of the Neonatology Department of Pediatrics, said during a press conference in the hospital's main lobby.
The hospital has already raised nearly $1.7 million toward renovations and is looking to raise an additional $4 million through its "tiny feet. tiny hands. BIG HEARTS." campaign.
One of the NICU's major limitations is that it doesn't include sleeping areas for the families of newborns. Chanel Newsome, whose 4-pound baby was cared for at Franklin Square nearly seven years ago, said it was difficult leaving her child behind every night.
"I can only imagine what this exceptional staff could do with a new and improved NICU with increased space. Moms like me wouldn't have to have sleepless nights at home," Newsome said.
County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins also spoke about her involvement in the NICU over the years. About 25 years ago, her own son was cared for there. Later, in 2006, she coordinated with the March of Dimes to raise funds for Franklin Square's NICU. But most recently, Bevins' own twin grandbabies, Addison and Joshua Bevins, passed through the unit. They joined her during her remarks.
"They ended up delivering early ... again, I got to experience almost three months of the NICU and they received quality care. The staff is just tremendous here, but again, we were in the same room with just curtains dividing the beds, and I have to tell you—your babies have peaks and valleys when they're in the NICU, and it's hard to celebrate your babies getting to a goal when a baby next to them is having a challenge," Bevins said.
"That's part of why I'm so excited about the expansion that's going to take place here," she added.