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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Unlike most ribbon cuttings with politicians, young children alone cut the ribbon at West Penn Hospital’s new state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit or NICU.

“One, two, three, cut the ribbon,” was the countdown amidst cheers from the crowd.

The children were graduates of West Penn’s NICU where since 1961 premature babies and critically ill newborns receive important care before being released to go home.

“Neonates, the most fragile of our patients — about 50 percent of all of our patients that come here are less than three pounds,” said Ron Andro, CEO of West Penn Hospital.

Over 4,000 babies were born at West Penn Hospital in 2018, and while the number of births is growing, so is the number of those needing special care at birth because of premature birth or because the mother has drug issues, obesity, or simply older age.

Whatever the issue, the new 23-unit — all private rooms — is designed for both babies and their families.

“Being a NICU caregiver means not just treating sick babies. It means caring for the entire family,” noted Dr. Sanjay Mitra, a neonatologist.

In addition to all the medical bells and whistles, each room has a pull-out sofa bed so parents can be in the same room as their infant.

“Highmark and Allegheny Health Network have invested so much over the past several years in women’s and children’s services, really helping us provide a world-class, more personalized opportunity to care for our patients and our communities,” said Dr. Alan Klapper, chair of the AHN Women & Children Institute.

“And that includes NICU nurses,” added Claire Zangerle, AHN’s chief nurse executive.

“We’re fully staffed, and we’re open for business and ready to go.”

The NICU also has a small common kitchen area for families, along with a computer center for parents.

“With all these young people and families moving into Pittsburgh, these needs are here,” said Rich Fitzgerald, the Allegheny County chief executive.

Last year more than 1,000 critically ill infants from the tri-state area received specialized care at West Penn.