Baby on board

21 critical-care newborns were carefully transferred to a new intensive care unit
Tuesday, November 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:12 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

At 7 a.m. Monday, Columbia Regional Hospital’s brand new Newborn Intensive Care Unit was empty. Electrical outlets were bare, two dozen treatment stations were unoccupied, and a lone empty crib stood in the middle of the room.

“In three hours, it’ll look a lot different in here,” said Dr. Elizabeth James, neonatologist and director of the NICU.

It took less than two.

At 8:52, the unit’s first patient, a 2-week-old girl, was wheeled in on a gurney.

Within 10 minutes, four more babies followed and the unit came alive with beeps and screeches from machines, while nurses and doctors shouted medical jargon.

The NICU opened Monday at Columbia Regional along with the new Family Birthing Center. Both were moved from University Hospital to consolidate birthing services with prenatal care offered by Missouri OB/GYN Associates at Columbia Regional since 2002.

Twelve hours after it opened, Columbia Regional had received all 21 critical-care newborns, ranging in weight from 1 to 10 pounds. Two more were added Monday evening after a woman gave birth to twins, born four weeks premature.

“It’s sort of more like home,” James said after the first five babies were settled in and being fed. “An empty nursery is never one that feels normal.”

Many mothers were with their babies at University Hospital before the move and followed them to Columbia Regional, where they fed the babies and rocked them to sleep. Some mothers even read them books provided by the hospital’s Books for Babies program.

“That way they know the mother’s or father’s voice,” James said. “They tend to have better outcomes.”

The process of moving the newborns from one hospital to another wasn’t easy.

“It’ll just be sort of logistically challenging,” James had said last week. “You’ve got to move the baby with the equipment.”

As one NICU was filling up, the other was emptying. At University Hospital, nurses and members of the transport team had to check each newborn’s vital signs, such as heart rate, breathing rate and temperature, in preparation for the move. The babies could then be placed in a temperature-controlled transport isolette, which monitors vital signs and has a ventilator to help the baby breathe, just like in the intensive care unit. The isolettes run on battery power and can be transported.

“It’s a mini ICU,” respiratory therapist and transport team member Linda Murdock said during an ambulance ride to Columbia Regional. “Just about anything we can do in the unit we can do in here.”

On average, two newborns can be transported in an ambulance on each trip. During the morning hours, two ambulances were used in the move, but only one was used in the afternoon. James is no stranger to moving critically ill newborns. This was the fifth NICU move James has been involved with since she began working at University Hospital in 1971. However, the previous four were relocations within the same building, making this move the most challenging, she said.

“But we’ll be leaving no child behind,” James said.

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