February 25, 2002
Family focus dominates Evergreen's new neonatal intensive care facility
by Deborah Stone
In 10 years, the number of newborns at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center has increased 62 percent. Last year, there were over 7,000 births at Eastside hospitals. Unfortunately, as this birth rate rises, so does the number of babies born prematurely with serious complications. This can be attributed to several factors: increased use of fertility drugs, which have given rise to a higher number of multiple births (almost always premature) and a greater amount of high risk pregnancies (women over 40, drug-addicted women and low income women without insurance to cover prenatal care).
Modern medical technology has helped keep these premature infants alive, when a decade ago they wouldn't have survived. Today, these babies are hospitalized for a month to two months or more after birth, in specialized neonatal-intensive-care units (known as Level III facilities) to receive the high level of care they demand.
Until now, critically ill infants born at Evergreen had to be transferred to one of four Seattle hospitals with Level III facilities, often creating overflow problems for these units. It was a stressful and difficult situation for both babies and their families, who had to endure painful separation from one another and major upheaval. An inconvenient commute only elevated the anxiety and made matters worse.
With Evergreen's new intensive care nursery opening in early March, this will all be a thing of the past. The hospital is expanding its nationally recognized maternity services to provide a full range of services associated with high-risk pregnancies and babies.
The new unit (at a price tag of $12 million) will include a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery (to accommodate babies born as early as 26 weeks gestation) and an expanded Level II Special Care Nursery (for babies with less serious problems). It will also accommodate an expanded Family Maternity Services department to be used for preterm labor, postpartum caesarean recovery and gynecological surgery patients. In addition, the unit will offer family lounges, kitchen areas, a classroom for staff and parent education (also to be used for family movie evenings), a reflection room for quiet thought, a family laundry room, an inpatient children's quiet play room and an active play area for healthy siblings.
What will set Evergreen apart from many hospitals with neonatal intensive care nurseries is its style of care.
"The typical Level III facility warehouses babies and puts them together in a large ward," explains Dr. Stephen Chentow, Evergreen's Medical Director of Neonatal Care. "There's no privacy for families when they visit their babies and the environment is hard for both groups because there's always noise and activity. Our model is to provide private suites for each family and baby. This allows parents to stay with their babies and be involved in their care. The atmosphere will be much calmer and quieter, which will not only help the work environment, but will also benefit the babies and their abilities to recover faster. Research has shown that babies in private rooms, away from the chaos of a large ward, show improvement quicker and have fewer complications than those placed together in one ward."
There will be four Level III suites, fifteen Level II suites (which can also serve as pediatric rooms if the need arises) and four pediatric suites (which can also be used as Level II rooms). The Family Maternity Services unit will include 13 suites. Each of the suites is a beautifully designed and spacious room, carpeted and furnished with a fridge, entertainment center, sleeping area, recliner chair, space for personal belongings and private bathroom with shower.
In the Level III suites, infants are placed in special "giraffe beds" that have multiple functions to accommodate multiple procedures in a ventilated system. Each one cost $30,000.
"These beds are state-of-the-art," comments Chentow. "They're incredibly expensive, but they're amazing in what they can do. The care can all be done within the bed system, which puts less stress on the baby and is easier for the staff. Everyone's excited about using these."
Leading edge technology closely monitors the babies with built-in back-up systems in case of emergencies.
"We're combining medical technology with a healing environment to impact the care of these critically ill infants," says Chentow. "It's the personal touch and the family focus that we think makes the difference. This family-centered care is a whole different way of delivering care than what we've done in years past, but it's now the way of the future."