St. Bernards Medical Center has added a new service by opening the region’s only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Announcement of the NICU opening was made at a press conference on March 6.
The St. Bernards NICU is a 12-bed open intensive care unit developed in conjunction with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock to care for premature and seriously ill infants. It will provide care for infants born at 32 weeks of pregnancy and weighing approximately three and one third pounds.
The special unit will provide a much needed service for families in this quadrant of the state as a part of the Arkansas Regional Neonatal Network.
“This NICU is going to have an enormous impact on all facets of the lives of families with premature and sick infants,” stresses Dr. Douglas E. Seglem, neonatologist who has joined the St. Bernards staff as medical director of the NICU.
Every year, up to 150 babies from this immediate area have been sent to Little Rock for delivery and/or care in the highly specialized intensive care nurseries at UAMS or Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH). That meant many families were not able to stay at home for high risk deliveries and subsequent care of premature and seriously ill babies.
Sometimes mothers were sent to Little Rock weeks before their due dates simply to be sure deliveries would take place in proximity to NICU services.
The St. Bernards NICU is a big-time game changer in that regard. Now, the majority of those babies can be cared for right here by a team of specially trained professionals led by Seglem, a physician with advanced training in the development and disorders of newborns.
“At St. Bernards we provide couplet care for healthy babies,” Seglem says, explaining that “normal” babies stay in rooms with their mothers, with nurses providing care for both in that setting.
“However, about one in nine babies needs a higher level of care,” he points out. “Typically those are preterm babies – born before 37 weeks of pregnancy – or those born with respiratory problems, infections, arrhythmias or heart defects. They represent about 13 percent of births.
“St. Bernards has developed this NICU to provide care for babies who have trouble with the transition from life in the womb to life in the outside world,” the neonatologist explains.
In the past, families with premature and sick babies had to choose whether to establish residence in Little Rock (or in some cases Memphis) or to be separated from their babies who needed specialized care.
That separation is something that takes a tremendous toll both emotionally and financially, he says.
“Families need to be involved in the care of their infants. They need to hold their babies. They need to take part in feeding them. They need to bond. But they can’t do that when they are 100 miles away.
In addition, most families today rely on two incomes, Seglem says, adding that when one breadwinner cannot work, it can be devastating financially. Not only does the family lose income, but also parents incur additional expenses traveling and staying away from home to be near their infant.
“This NICU is going to have impact well beyond the care that is delivered.”
The St. Bernards NICU was constructed on 5 East as a part of the medical center’s BirthCare Center. Cost of construction and equipment is approximately $1.5 million, and it is being funded through a capital campaign being conducted by the St. Bernards Development Foundation.
Construction costs are significant, but purchasing the necessary specialized equipment is beyond significant, with the estimated cost of equipment needed for each NICU patient ranging between $110,000 and $125,000.
The multidisciplinary team providing care for our NICU infants includes a neonatologist, pediatricians, nurses and respiratory therapists as well as others who work in the fields of pharmacy, dietary, non-invasive cardiology, laboratory, radiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, education, pastoral care and social work.
Our caregivers develop strong relationships with parents, teaching them how to bond with babies while they are in the NICU as well as how to care for them when they go home.
The typical NICU stay varies, but the rule of thumb is it is equivalent to the difference between the delivery date and the mother’s due date. That means that it is not unusual for babies to need specialized care for anywhere from two to 12 weeks, Seglem says.
The new St. Bernards NICU means that families from Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri who have premature babies will be able to stay at … or at the very least, closer to … home while their babies receive specialized care.
Other facilities in the Arkansas Regional Neonatal Network are located in Fort Smith, Fayetteville and Texarkana as well as Little Rock.
The new program is another way St. Bernards delivers community healthcare in the truest sense.