Expectant mother worries about downgrading of NICU at St. Anthony North Hospital

THORNTON, Colo. -- An expectant mother who will give birth any day is struggling with a big decision she made months ago.

Tamber Frederiksen of Thornton doesn't know where she will deliver her baby. The trouble unfolded Tuesday when she got some unexpected news.

Frederiksen was told by staff that the neonatal intensive care unit was closing at St. Anthony North Health Campus at 14300 Orchard Parkway.

The NICU will remain, but it's no longer as equipped to deal with ill or very premature newborns.

And for Frederiksen, a high-risk mom-to-be, it's a game changer.

"So we were told two weeks before I’m supposed to give birth, at most, that, 'Oh, by the way, If your child needs any type of special care, they will either be Flight-for-Lifed or taken by ambulance to Avista Hospital. We no longer have a NICU and we no longer have neonatal specialty staff here,’” Frederikson said.

The 35-year-old couldn't believe it. And she couldn't believe she found out so late in her higher-risk pregnancy.

"I had a low-growth hormone early on that indicates things such as premature labor, pre-eclampsia, that is required additional monitoring. So those things, coupled with what’s going on, you’d expect they’d let me know or give me options, knowing that I am higher risk to have complications," she said.

"Actually, the NICU unit is not closed at St. Anthony North," said Dr. Rob Robinson, chief medical officer at Avista Hospital.

Robinson said St. Anthony North's NICU is consolidating with Avista's higher specialization.

So St. Anthony North goes from a level two hospital -- which cares for babies 32 weeks and older -- to level one, which cares for low-risk babies 36 weeks and older.

Forty weeks is considered normal term.

"I extend my and all of our team's sincere apology if communication did not go as planned," Robinson said.

The previous higher specialization at St. Anthony North's NICU provided Frederiksen with comfort should anything go wrong. Now, she's filled with the opposite.

"This is a stress factor. Every day I wake up and hope I’m not in labor yet. I have another day to figure it out," she said.

Figure out what hospital she'll go to now.

"Now, you are faced with a big decision that was made months ago," she said.

Her choices come down to staying at St. Anthony North where the NICU is not up to her expectations, go to Avista where she doesn’t know the delivery staff or go to a different hospital.

"I want to be able to make that decision. Is that something I am willing to take a risk on or is there another facility that is better suited to me?" she said.

Robinson said the hospital must do a better job of supporting the obstetricians and others who deliver the message to their patients.