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Sisters Hospital kicks off expansion of newborn intensive care unit

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Catholic Health
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Children wielding plastic hammers knocked down a Styrofoam block wall as Sisters of Charity Hospital "broke ground" on its $8.8 million expanded 40-bed neonatal intensive care unit on Wednesday. All the children had been treated in Sisters' NICU as newborns.

The unit is moving into former office space opened when staffers moved into the former upstairs convent of the Daughters of Charity, the hospital's founders.

Dr. Kamal Singhal from Buffalo Neonatology Associates said the unit originally opened with 10 beds and has grown over the years, trying to keep up with the increasing number of infants needing care. He said the unit is always crowded.

"Today, we average about 37-40 babies census on a daily basis," Singhal said. "We have a staff of 400 nurses and we will continue to grow, so this new space that we need is long overdue. We try to focus on family-centered care. We try to help parents as much as we can. Currently, we try to accommodate them as much as we can."

The current 20-bed NICU treated 650 of babies last year, of the 3,300 born in the hospital. Sisters said that is the most of any hospital west of Syracuse. Nurse Colleen Perryman has worked in the NICU for 33 years.

"One thing that hasn't changed over these 32 years is the dedication and devotion from our staff for our patients and our families," Perryman said. "People ask us all the time as nurses, they'll say to us, 'How can you do this job? I could never take care of these babies.' But, as many of the nurses out here will attest to, this isn't a job. This is a calling for us. This is what we were meant to do."

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Credit Catholic Health System
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A rendering of the nine-bed NICU pod.

Michael Lawley, chairman of the capital campaign for the project, was accompanied by his 13-year old daughter Ava, who had been treated in the specialty intensive care unit as a newborn. He said that is why the event was so personal to him.

"A very scary time for us as parents, but one of the things that was reassuring was that she was in the right spot, she was in the right hands and the NICU took great care of her," Lawley said, "At the same time for us, while she was here, we had the opportunity to see the incredible care that not only she was receiving, but other babies received."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.