Providing the Highest Quality Care for our Tiniest Patients
For those who care for the critically ill newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), victories come in doses almost as small as the patients themselves.
An additional ounce on the scale. The first cuddle with a parent. A successful breath of room air/outside of a ventilator.
"It's very hard not to get attached to these little ones, and it's so exciting to watch them grow and get better," said Connie Eggleston, NICU Nurse Manager, ambulatory and inpatient. “Seeing them reach milestones, like taking their first bottle, might seem like not such a big deal to many. But in the NICU world, it's a celebration.”
In honor of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month, we highlight the providers, nurses, social workers, maternity service representatives, customer support partners, care coordinators, occupational and physical therapists, speech language pathologist and support staff who work in our new birthing center's state-of-the-art NICU.
Each year, MetroHealth's NICU team provides life-saving care for more than 500 medically fragile newborns, some of whom are born months too early. They often weigh less than a pound with organs too underdeveloped to work on their own. Some of the babies are born with birth defects that require specialized care. The average stay in the NICU is a few weeks, but some are there for longer than a year.
"It definitely is challenging, especially with the severely premature infants," Connie said. "The parents are anxious, sad that the infant was born early and scared of potential outcomes. Even though the parents are not our patients, they still kind of are, as we do need to support, educate and encourage them along this sometimes-long rollercoaster journey."
The emotional highs and lows bring the NICU team together in a bond that is more like a family, said Eggleston, supporting one another both personally and professionally as they work toward achieving the best possible outcomes for the infants and their families.
Diane Kahl, a social worker in the NICU, provides support to NICU families when they are at their most vulnerable. Sometimes, that means helping them find solutions to overcome obstacles that limit the frequency and length of their visits with their babies.
"I meet many families who feel tremendous fear and anxiety as well as hopelessness," Diane said. "I get to support them by identifying their strengths and needs and linking them with community resources to help them feel empowered and cope effectively. I can help them problem solve to reduce barriers to having quality time with their babies. Having knowledge of their circumstances allows the team to meet them where they are."
The ultimate goal, she said, is to ensure the best outcome for the high-risk babies – from the moment they are born until they go home and beyond. Connie said most NICU patients are seen up to the age of 2 in the MetroHealth Preemie Clinic.
"Working in NICU is a privilege," Connie said. "Not only do we get to love on these infants along the way, but we also impact the parents in positive ways through being their partners throughout their infants' stay."
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.