Q&A with Joe Toney, MD
Neonatologist & Medical Director of Sky Ridge's NICU
Pediatrix/Obstetrix Medical Group of Colorado
Sky Ridge Medical Center is a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), bringing a great depth of care to our community. Joe Toney, MD (a 5280 Magazine Top Doc) has helped Sky Ridge expand its services to newborns.
Q: How long have you been a physician?
A: Twenty-two years. I graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine in 1984.
Q: What role do you play as a neonatologist and medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sky Ridge Medical Center?
A: Being a neonatologist means I have special training to care for babies who are ill. About half the babies I care for are born premature; the other half are full-term babies who have critical health problems, such as heart defects, respiratory illnesses, genetic disorders or other serious medical complications. As medical director of nurseries at Sky Ridge it's my job to make sure the nursery has the appropriate equipment, technology and staffing as well as policies and procedures in place to deliver the safest and highest quality care to expectant mothers and newborns.
Q: Why do babies have to be treated in the NICU?
A: Premature babies are treated in the NICU because they may not have the ability to do many of the things that a full-term baby can do. Some need help with their breathing in the first few days, and many can't nurse or bottle feed directly and need to be tube-fed until they're more mature. Most also need help staying warm and need to be cared for in an incubator. The NICU provides the best environment for them to grow until their parents can care for them just like a full-term baby. We also take care of babies who are born full-term but may have difficulty transitioning from life inside the womb to life outside. We treat these infants for various problems, such as jaundice, infections and difficulties with breathing. Babies in this situation might need care for just a few days.
Q: Typically how many babies are in the Sky Ridge NICU at any one time?
A: There are usually about six patients in the hospital's NICU, but we have 11 beds.
Q: As the newest HealthONE hospital, Sky Ridge is a valuable asset for people living in south Denver metro area. What are some of the amenities available as well as benefits for babies who are delivered at Sky Ridge?
A: Sky Ridge is a full-service hospital with a separate pediatric emergency department and a pediatric unit staffed by Pediatrix/Obstetrix physicians and private pediatricians. With its 11-bed nursery, Sky Ridge has the ability to provide care for babies born at or after 28 weeks and who weigh more than 1,000 grams, or about 2.2 pounds. The hospital has a full range of sub-specialist pediatricians for areas including cardiology, surgery, urology, endocrinology and gastroenterology who can care for infants with specific problems.
Also, Sky Ridge provides a parent room where parents can stay temporarily if their infant needs to have prolonged care beyond when the mother is discharged from the hospital. As a physician affiliated with Pediatrix/Obstetrix, I also have access to the organization's research data system called Baby Steps, which allows me to tap the expertise of hundreds of neonatologists around the country to provide the best care and treatment for newborns.
Q: Can you talk more about Pediatrix/Obstetrix's Baby Steps database and how that technology helps you do your job more effectively?
A: Baby Steps is our proprietary database that helps us share expertise with other physicians around the country, especially when we're caring for babies with rare or complex conditions. We also use the database to analyze information on more than 40,000 patients to develop best practices for delivering care.
Q: What exactly is Pediatrix/Obstetrix Medical Group?
A: We're a nationwide practice of physicians founded in 1979 who provide specialized care for high-risk babies, children and mothers. Our Colorado group of about 50 doctors is part of a network of more than 800 specialists around the country.
Q: Why did you become a neonatologist?
A: In college, I was interested in developmental genetics, and during my first week on campus at Stanford, I got a job at the intensive care nursery lab. I worked there for two years while taking classes and fell in love with the idea of taking care of babies. I ended up doing a pediatric residency, and I loved the time I spent in the nursery more than any other rotation. That's how I decided to become a neonatologist.
Q: What's the best thing about being a neonatologist?
A: The best thing is taking sick babies and helping them become healthy so they can go home and be a joy to their parents. A number of parents bring their babies back to the nursery to show the physicians and nurses how they're growing. Being a neonatologist isn't just about taking care of sick babies, though. It's about taking care of the whole family as they get through one of the most challenging times in their lives.
Q: Can you offer any additional advice for parents of newborns?
A: Just relax and enjoy your time because it goes by very quickly. Although parenthood can be daunting, kids always seem to learn their ABCs.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I spend time with my wife and family. We love to do outdoor activities like bike riding, camping and skiing—all the usual Colorado stuff.