BY JANET MANDELSTAM
The babies weigh less than three pounds and need help breathing. They are kept warm and monitored around the clock by specially trained medical staff. That level of intensive care has always been available to premature babies born in the Bloomington area, but they and their families no longer have to travel to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis to receive it.
Since the beginning of the year, IU Health Bloomington Hospital has been treating smaller and smaller babies in its new Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). And soon it will be able to care for babies born at about 26 weeks (normal gestation is 40 weeks) and weighing little more than one pound. A baby born at 25–26 weeks stays in the hospital for about 100 days and is released about the time of his or her original due date, says Dr. Abhay Singhal, a neonatologist at Riley Hospital.
Upgrading its Special Care Nursery, which supported babies born at 32 weeks or older, to an NICU was part of the hospital’s strategic plan. The Bloomington Hospital Foundation raised more than $700,000 to purchase new equipment — monitors, warmers, ventilators — and to hire neonatologists, nurses, respiratory specialists, and other support staff.
The advantages of local care are physical and emotional, benefiting both babies and families, says Dr. James Laughlin, pediatrician at IU Health. “Babies that don’t need to be transferred tend to do better. And families are not disrupted when babies need a prolonged stay in the hospital,” he says.
“It’s so much less stressful for the whole family not to have to travel to Indianapolis to be with the baby,” says Amy Little, RN, clinical director of the NICU.
“The nurses are so excited to be taking care of these little babies,” says Little. The new unit typically cares for eight to 10 babies, double what it used to manage. Recent cases have included babies with Down Syndrome, cardiac issues, and cleft palate. “We would have shipped these babies to Riley; now we can care for them here,” says Little. The unit has a dedicated pharmacy staff and partners with other departments, including radiology, respiratory therapy, and children’s physical therapy.
The benefits of a local NICU begin even before birth. “With a high-risk pregnancy,” says Laughlin, “a woman can stay here in Bloomington to await delivery.”