JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- Clark Memorial Hospital is taking steps to open a Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which would be the first of its kind in southern Indiana.

March of Dimes statistics say nearly 10 percent of Indiana’s babies are born premature. Elizabeth Kirkham said her son’s premature birth came as a complete surprise. 

"I had a fairly healthy pregnancy, up until things just kind of went wrong at the last minute,” Kirkham said. 

At 36 weeks pregnant, Kirkam's blood pressure spiked, putting her and her baby at risk. She delivered baby Anthony four weeks early, at only 5 pounds.

"So it was emotional. It was hard. It wasn't what we wanted to do,” Kirkham said.

Clark Memorial Hospital is upgrading its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to better serve families like the Kirkhams. The upgrades will make the hospital capable of treating babies born up to two months premature. 

The hospital said it saw a need for the upgrades due to the number of patients it was sending elsewhere for treatment. 

"We were transferring several babies from southern Indiana to Louisville to receive care that we couldn't provide here,” said Ellee Humphrey, Director of Women's Services at Clark Memorial Hospital.

The babies were going to Norton Children's Hospital and often leaving their mothers behind. 

"I got pretty emotional when they had to take him just downstairs away from me, so I can't imagine him being across the river and me still being here away from him,” Kirkham said. 

Norton Children's has a Level IV NICU, the highest possible level. Very sick babies, as well as more premature babies Clark Memorial will not be equipped to handle, will still be treated there. Clark Memorial is also partnering with those experts to train its staff. 

"So the nursing staff here has actually traveled to Children's to learn from the best, to learn from the experts in providing this level of care,” Humphrey said. 

The upgrades will allow the hospital to provide better care for babies and moms when they need it most. 

"We're able to deliver the care and keep the care in the community ... So we're able to keep southern Indiana moms and babies in southern Indiana,” Humphrey said. 

The hospital is still working on some necessary upgrades and training to bring the NICU to Level II status, all of which should be completed by June of this year. 

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