St. Peter's Health and Bozeman Health are building a new neonatal care program together, the hospitals announced.
For many mothers facing difficult pregnancies in Helena, Missoula is the nearest city with a hospital that can handle the complications that come with high-risk births. St. Peter's Health CEO Wade Johnson said this new partnership would make Bozeman a better option for those situations.
"We're bringing care closer to our patients," Johnson said, pointing out that Bozeman is closer than Missoula and doesn't have MacDonald Pass in the way.
The partnership between the two health centers will allow St. Peter's patients access to Bozeman's new Level II NICU (newborn intensive care unit), which is slated to open in 2020. Patients at St. Peter's will also have access to telehealth appointments with Bozeman-based natal care specialists and coordinated care in Helena after the birth of a child.
Johnson said that over the years, patients have been referred to different hospitals in the state as doctors have shifted their practices. But, he said, the choice to go to a hospital is always determined by the doctor or the patient.
"They still have a choice to go where they want to go," Johnson said.
"What that means for mothers and babies is that they will have access to more resources closer to home," Johnson said.
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While St. Peter's will continue to make improvements to its own NICU, Johnson said the partnership will provide better service for the Helena-Bozeman corridor.
Johnson said the decision to partner with Bozeman was one based on both health centers' identities as nonprofit community-based organizations.
"We have a lot in common together," Johnson said. "Culturally, at an organizational level, it was a good fit."
The decision to form a partnership between Bozeman and St. Peter's is also based on the expected population growth in the corridor between Helena and Bozeman in the next two decades. With that kind of growth, Johnson said it made sense to place a "high-level NICU" between Billings and Missoula.
"If you combined the population volumes between Helena and Bozeman and consider the population growth taking place in that region, this will be the largest NICU in the state of Montana in terms of moms and babies being served over time," Johnson said.
"If you combine our communities and the people we serve, it will become the largest program in the state."