Essentia Health ready to launch new NICU in DuluthEssentia Health celebrated the rebirth of the Northland’s only neonatal intensive care unit on Thursday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Essentia Health celebrated the rebirth of the Northland’s only neonatal intensive care unit on Thursday.
Well, almost. The new unit in St. Mary’s Medical Center, part of a $5.2 million project, won’t actually be in operation until the end of July. Thursday’s sneak preview gave hospital employees and people who contributed to the project the chance to explore some of the unit’s 18 private family rooms without intruding on its serious business.
All told, the new NICU will have more than double the space of the old, said Kim Kaiser, Essentia Health spokeswoman.
But it’s how the space will be used that has NICU staff excited.
“It’s night and day,” said Dr. Lee Muskovitz, a neonatologist who is the unit’s medical director. “To have this much available space per room … is just incredible. Right now we’re in such tight quarters.”
A visit to the current NICU, around a corner and behind an electronically controlled sliding door, demonstrated what he was talking about.
Eight babies were in incubators in the dimly lit room. Nurses kept close watch, speaking in hushed voices. The units are bunched together: incubator, rocking chair; incubator, rocking chair. There’s no individual space for the families.
“If a crisis is happening right here, everyone knows,” Muskovitz said, as he pointed at one of the units.
Muskovitz couldn’t stop smiling on Thursday as he showed guests the new private rooms that will replace that single room. The new rooms are divided into a high-tech space to care for the baby, and space for the family that includes a couch that can fold out into a sleeping platform. Linen closets are accessible from the room and the hallway, so linens can be exchanged without entering the room.
Planning for the remodeling began two or three years ago, said Cindy Kent, nursing director of Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, and actual construction began at the start of the year.
Community donors gave $2.5 million toward the project, Kaiser said. When everything is finished by the end of the year, the existing NICU will have been converted into office space for staff and a new family waiting room will be created.
In the new NICU, the way the staff communicates will change, Muskovitz said. Now, everyone on staff can see and hear everyone else. That won’t be the case in the private rooms, so a Vocera communication system has been installed. Muskovitz showed how the device hangs on a lanyard around his neck, allowing him to connect with another staffer at the touch of a button.
The NICU has about 300 admissions a year, Muskovitz said, and serves an area stretching from about halfway to the Twin Cities to the south, the Canadian border to the north, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the east and halfway to Fargo, N.D., to the west. Babies stay in the NICU for anywhere from a couple of days to several months.
It’s staffed by three neonatologists, four nurse practitioners and 60 nurses, Muskovitz said.
An average of 13 or 14 babies are typically in the NICU, which has a capacity of 24, he said. Although the new NICU has 18 rooms, each can handle two babies, if necessary.
In a couple of places, a divider can be removed to make one larger room out of two. Those will be used in the event of multiple births, Muskovitz said.
The transition will make a big difference in the lives of families dealing with a traumatic time in their lives, Kent said.
“Just to be able to be in a quiet, relaxing environment to have that special bonding time, it’s going to be so much better for the family,” she said.