ROCKFORD, Illinois – One year ago, January 2017, Mercyhealth’s Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) team launched a Small Baby Unit (SBU) to improve long-term developmental outcomes among the region’s rare micro-preemie population. They’re born less than 27 weeks gestation or weigh less than 2.2 pounds. In its first year, the SBU has helped 34 babies who fall into this category.
“We had a cake and some birthday decorations set up,” said Kelsey Hernandez, the Clinical Educator of Mercyhealth’s NICU. “We are also leaving a handprint and footprint craft at the bedsides of the babies so their parents can do them when they come in to visit from now on.”
Mercyhealth’s Small Baby Unit, including 6 bed pods, allows for its highly-specialized neonatal intensive care team to work in a separate wing of the neonatal intensive care unit which was specifically constructed with special lighting and noise reduction to keep stimulation to a minimum. Speaking is only done in hushed voices, an attempt to mimic what babies would experience if they were still safely tucked in the mother’s womb. The Small Baby Unit encourages more skin-to-skin touch therapy, called Kangaroo Care, an evidence-based practice that only parents can provide which is proven to aid in growth and development.
The uniquely-trained and dedicated multidisciplinary team of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and lactation consultants, meet each day, and have all undergone advanced training. A team of case managers, social workers, dietitians, psychologists and family support liaisons specialize in dealing with the emotions of life, to home care needs. Mercyhealth’s Small Baby Unit staff not only undergo special training in neonatal intensive care, but receive specific training on the health complexities of extremely low birth weight babies. Specifically, 45 of its 130 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses underwent advanced simulation and small baby (or micro-preemie) education in preparation for the Small Baby Unit.
Dr. Headley, who was part of the team instrumental in the planning and development, says the Small Baby Unit is unique in that it supports and fosters relationship building using co-parenting techniques that instill confidence and involvement with parents. “Many times, parents are afraid to touch their premature baby due their fragile state,” she said. “The entire NICU staff have advanced training not only for NICU babies but also for the tiniest, most fragile babies. They are an incredible source of care, strength and guidance. They work closely with families to help them learn about their babies and understand complex medical terminology and any procedures or surgeries their baby may face. Because families with babies in the unit are going though many of the same experiences, they are able to form a bond of friendship and understanding.”
Mercyhealth is the region’s leader in caring for infants, children and adolescents. Mercyhealth Hospital-Rockton Avenue (Rockford Memorial Hospital) is the 15 county region’s only Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the highest level available. The 52-bed NICU provides care for premature, critically ill and injured newborns. Mercyhealth provides the highest level of care for moms and babies in the Rockford region and was the first hospital in the area to be accredited as a Baby Friendly Hospital in 2014. Mercyhealth also offers the region’s only and largest Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Additionally, primary care and pediatric specialist physicians provide care for children from birth through age 17.