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Mercyhealth’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Celebrates 50 Years

ROCKFORD, Illinois — Mercyhealth’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Javon Bea Hospital–Riverside is proudly celebrating 50 years this December. The unit was originally called the High Risk Nursery and opened as a 10-bed unit in December 1970. It became a regional center for neonatal and perinatal programs in 1974. Over the past 50 years, Mercyhealth’s NICU has cared for more than 20,000 babies.

“Mercyhealth’s NICU has historically been regionally recognized for having a highly-skilled, technologically-advanced unit even 50 years ago,” said Pam Allen, RNC-NIC, BSN, NICU, Nurse Manager at Mercyhealth. “Although the science and technology have changed over the years, our commitment to providing specialized expertise and comprehensive resources to treat the smallest and sickest babies has remained our top priority.”

Mercyhealth’s NICU continued to expand throughout the years, growing to 24 beds in 1977, 40 beds in 1990, 46 beds in 2009 and 52 beds in 2016. On January 10, 2017, Mercyhealth opened the region’s only Small Baby Unit. This 12-bed unit within the NICU was developed to improve long-term developmental outcomes among the region’s rare micro-preemie population, those babies born less than 30 weeks’ gestation. And then in January 2018, the NICU, along with other pediatric and adult specialties, moved to their new home at Javon Bea Hospital–Riverside. This 52-bed unit boasts private rooms and state-of the art-facilities and equipment.

“The nurses and doctors who work in our NICU say this job is one worth celebrating, and for us all, this 50-year celebration is about honoring the families and their amazing accomplishments,” said Jenni Wolf, System Director of Perinatal and Neonatal Services. “They stay in touch with Christmas cards and birthday celebrations. These families become extended family to the NICU staff.” 

Mercyhealth is designated by the State of Illinois as a Level III Regional Perinatal Center. Thisdesignation is the highest in the state, reflecting Mercyhealth’s specialized expertise and comprehensive resources to treat the smallest and sickest babies. As the Northwest Illinois Level III Perinatal Center, Mercyhealth is the referral center for the 11-county northern Illinois region, including Rockford and the surrounding area. Mercyhealth also provides services to three southern Wisconsin counties.

The Level III NICU at Javon Bea Hospital–Riverside features:

  • Angel Eye cameras that provide a live stream video for parents and families to view their baby at any time.
  • Family centered care.
  • Neonatal Follow-up Clinic that sees patients one month after discharge and again at 4-5 months, 10-11 months, 18 months and 30-36 months. Each visit has a nurse practitioner and developmental therapist, with a dietician available.
  • Neonatal and maternal transport teams comprised of NICU certified nurses with specialized training that provide both ground and air transports for moms and babies through our REACT program.
  • Parent Advisory Council comprised of parents of former NICU patients that have lived the NICU experience and want to support current families.
  • Pediatric therapies, including occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, provide support to the infant, family and medical team in the NICU. Physical therapists and occupational therapists work with parents on handling techniques for calming and positioning infants to encourage motor and cognitive development. Speech therapists assess infants’ pre-feeding skills and assist with transitioning to oral feeding.

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