CHRISTUS/Good Shepherd Medical Center’s (GSMC) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was the first NICU to open in Northeast Texas and continues to win recognition for its sterling care of at-risk babies from Longview, the surrounding, Northeast Texas area and anywhere else they may come from seeking treatment. The Texas Department of State Health Services has officially named this unit a Level III NICU. This three-year designation officially recognizes the facility’s success in achieving requirements set by national and state standards.

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed Bill 3433, requiring delivery hospitals and hospitals with NICUs to meet rigid standards and to apply for state designation as Level I, II, III or IV nursery/ICUs. These regulations aim to meet national guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The accreditation procedure includes the filling out of a lengthy application, achieving requirements for specific levels, and an on-site inspection by a state-approved survey team. Heading into its 15th year the CHRISTUS GSMC-Longview/NICU has reached this demanding level of service, and its personnel intend to continue providing East Texas with this crucial treatment option.

“We are very proud to receive our official designation from the State of Texas,” said NICU Medical Director Dr. Christopher Ihionkhan. “This should be reassuring to families whose babies require care in our NICU. We are meeting national and state regulations and providing state-of-the-art care.”

Accomplishing LEVEL III designation indicates a facility meets quality and safety guidelines set by the Department of State Health Services. This entails providing 24-hour in-house neonatal nurse practitioner or neonatologist care, maintaining equipment and resources needed for infants born of all gestations, supplying prolonged ventilator use, having a specialized NICU Transport Team and linking them to other regional hospitals.

“This designation means that the state has verified our claim that we are providing Level III neonatal care,” said Ihionkhan. “It is a marker of excellence that can help offer peace of mind during a very difficult time.”

The CHRISTUS GSMC-Longview team employs a battery of specialized medical providers collaborating to provide the absolute highest level of care for tiny patients. The team includes neonatalists, neonatal nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, certified lactation consultants, neonatal dieticians, pediatric pharmacists, nurse educators, social workers, case managers, chaplains and any other specialists needed for creating a resource of care for newborns in delicate health. CHRISTUS/Good Shepherd Health System Chief Executive Officer Todd Hancock was delighted but not surprised at his facility’s achievement.

“We’re very proud of our NICU team, who have been working hard to make sure our NICU meets the highest standards in the state of Texas,” he said. “This designation acknowledges that CHRISTUS Good Shepherd Medical Center-Longview has all the available resources and is committed to providing highly specialized care for newborns and their families.”

Prior to this year NICUs statewide were self-designated, meaning that units selected which patients they treated without regard to support services and capabilities. For the past three years, however, the Longview NICU has been preparing for this recognition to insure it remains a pacesetter in neonatal care throughout East Texas. State officials carried out an intensive two-day inspection of the Longview facility, meticulously examining its policies, procedures and quality improvement programs.

“Being 100 miles away from your home for two to three months caring for a baby in the NICU is a very difficult process,” said Ihionkhan. “Having a Level III NICU here in Longview means that a family can remain close to their infant, continue working and involve the extended family in the care of the infant more readily. This allows for better bonding, better breastfeeding and happier siblings and extended families.”

Good Shepherd makes it all possible.