Care Expands for Tiny Babies and their Families

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.--Mercy is focusing on the family as it transforms the way it cares for some of the tiniest patients in the Ozarks. Phase I of the Betty and Bobby Allison Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is opening at Mercy Hospital Springfield, with individual patient rooms that accommodate not just high-tech care, but also the loving presence of friends and family members.

Mercy’s former 28-bed NICU was one large room with infant beds sharing space with family members, scrub areas and the nurses’ stations. While this is a common design for NICUs across the country, family members often felt in the way of the care team and the busy environment could prove over-stimulating to the small babies.

The new NICU features individual family rooms—including larger “twin” rooms for multiple-birth families. Large sliding glass doors and the latest technology mean nurses can still keep a constant watch over the babies, but their families will also have the room they need to sit quietly with their newborns.

“Studies have shown that premature babies in individual rooms stay in the hospital for less time, they gain weight faster, and they have less risk of infection,” said Dr. Melinda Slack, medical director for the nursery at Mercy Hospital Springfield. “The research also shows there’s less stress for the parents, who feel like they have their own space and a role in their child’s care.”

Slack and the nurse management team have been working for 10 years on improving the NICU. The team traveled to multiple hospitals to learn what worked in other places, and what didn’t. Ideas for the design of the new NICU also came from families who’d experienced the old space. Liz Kemper had twin boys after an emergency C-section eight years ago. Harrison weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces; his brother Hudson weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce.

“You enter another world when you walk through the doors of the NICU,” said Kemper, whose boys have been in and out of Mercy Hospital Springfield over the years. “Your life, your babies are in there. No one plans on having sick babies.”

That’s why when Kemper was asked to serve on the family advisory board for Mercy Children’s Hospital Springfield, she knew she had to be a voice for all the children and families that would follow in her footsteps.

“If my input can make a difference, I wanted to take part,” said Kemper, a charter member of the advisory group who has met monthly at times in the past three years. “Mercy has been listening to us, making some changes along the way, and I believe it’s going to make an incredible difference.”

Phase I of the NICU includes 27 new beds. “About 30 years ago, the NICU took up just 600 square feet,” said Dr. Slack. “When the new NICU is completed, it will be about 36,000 square feet. That speaks to Mercy’s commitment to offer state-of-the-art health care.”

Construction on Phase II is scheduled for completion in June 2014. Until Phase II is finished, staff will continue to utilize space in the current NICU, with the capability of caring for more than 50 babies.

The redesigned NICU was made possible by generous donations from the community, including $2 million from Bobby Allison. Other significant donors with gifts totaling $480,000 are Beth and John Raidel, Dr. Walter and Martha Gaska, Dr. K. Fon and Kimberly Huang, Pediatrix Medical Group, Inc., The Smile Foundation, Dr. Eric and Kristi Fulnecky and Children, Dr. Alexander and Barbara Hover, Empire Bank and Central Trust and Investment Company, Arvest Bank, Dr. Elizabeth J. Andrews, Dr. John M. Burson, The Rick’s Automotive Family.

You can come see the new NICU for yourself. There’s a public open house Dec. 12, 2012 from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Tours leave from the south entrance of Mercy Hospital Springfield.

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