Essentia Health has big plans for Duluth’s tiniest patientsThe hospital has raised $2.5 million for a new Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune
Sitting on her mother’s lap at a noon luncheon Monday at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Rachel Maki was more interested in her cookie than in the luncheon’s news that more than $2.5 million has been raised for a new Newborn Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.
But the unit will benefit children like Rachel — now 2½ years old— who spent 11 weeks in the existing unit after she was born prematurely.
“She was born at 29 weeks, weighed 1 pound 8 ounces and was 13 inches long,” her mother, Carlene Maki, said.
Rachel is now “great, an average 2-year-old,” Maki said.
“We don’t know how important something like that is until we use it,” she said of the NICU. “The staff is the greatest. They guide you through everything.”
SMDC has the only Level III NICU north of the Twin Cities. Over the past two years, the unit served more than 500 families from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Its existence was a godsend for Maki, who works for Essentia as an electronic health records application analyst.
“I could be here with her consistently,” Maki said. “Otherwise, our next option was the Twin Cities.”
But the unit has its shortcomings. It was built in 1982 — back when medical care was provided differently. Its 24 cribs are in a large ward, giving families no privacy and subjecting young patients to noise, light and stressful distractions.
The new unit will have 18 private rooms.
“Private rooms will be a vast improvement for the families of our region’s most vulnerable infants,” NICU Medical Director Dr. Lee Muskovitz said, providing quiet, dark environments that simulate the womb.
“We really think single-family rooms will improve care,” he said.
The privacy will help families as well, Muskovitz said, giving them a private place to cope with the stress and emotions of dealing with a premature or seriously ill newborn.
“When you first have a baby like that, you’re very emotional and feel very vulnerable,” Maki said. “We had a baptism for her in NICU — not very private.”
The Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center Foundation began raising money for a new NICU in April 2008 as part of a larger campaign. The $9.5 million campaign also raised money for scientific research and breast health.
“This is the last phase we are finishing,” said Daniel Fuchs, director of foundations for Essentia Health’s east region. “It is going to be a significant upgrade.”
More than 700 donors gave enough money to exceed the foundation’s $2.5 million goal for the NICU. The money will go for the 18 private patient rooms, a lactation room for breast-feeding mothers, a conference room and staff areas. Work converting offices into patient rooms will begin later this year. When that work is finished, the current NICU space will be converted into offices. The project should be completed in 18 months.
“This is an example of how a private and health partnership can bring better health care to the region,” Fuchs said.