A year after opening, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Franciscan St. Anthony Health - Crown Point is experiencing growing pains.
"We are bringing in architects to help us determine how we can expand the NICU, since it has been running a high census and at times at capacity from the day we opened," hospital president David Ruskowski said.
The 12-bed, 4,210-square-foot unit, which is located in the hospital's obstetrics department, called The Birth Place, averages eight patients daily and cared for 230 its first year. It opened March 7 of last year, following a $2.5 million construction project, which was funded by the hospital's capital campaign.
"Things are going as expected – very well," said unit medical director Sudhish Chandra, MD. "The availability of the NICU has increased the number of parents wanting to have their babies here. If we didn't have the NICU, 80 percent of the babies it treats would have had to be transferred. Parents now know they get the same quality treatment and services for their babies here that they can in Chicago. They don’t have to deal with the stress of separation and traveling there."
The unit is staffed by two neonatologists, with plans for adding a third; two periantologists and more than 30 specially trained registered nurses, who hospital obstetrics clinical director Kathy Podorsek calls, a "special breed of nurses," due to delicate nature of their patients. Most of the patients are born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or have such conditions as low birth weight, heart problems, infections, birth defects or respiratory concerns.
Chandra said his smallest patient to date was born at 23 weeks and weighed 13 ounces. She spent two months in the unit and now is home.
A neonatal nurse practitioner recently was added to the staff. Plans also call for adding a second oscillating ventilator, to handle the ever-increasing patient volume.
"Our obstetrics unit volume was the highest ever last year – 1,613 patients. So far we are already up 30 births from last year," Podorsek said. "We employ dedicated, high-risk doctors in OB, which helps bring in more patients who might need the NICU. Many obstetrics doctors won't practice at a facility that doesn't have a NICU."
She believes the hospital's family-centered philosophy also has contributed to the increase.
"Patient satisfaction is very high; people in the community are hearing about us. For instance, we make it easy for grandparents to visit, even if the parents aren't here. We also allow siblings to visit."
Chandra added, "We go to extra lengths to be family friendly – to make them feel comfortable and well-informed. When they go home, we call after one or two days to see how things are going so they don't feel alone. We help them get through the initial phase until they become comfortable with their pediatrician."
Patient-mother says she’ll find it difficult to leave Franciscan St. Anthony Health
Audrey Finnearty has spent the better part of the last four months at Franciscan St. Anthony Health – the first two in The Birth Place obstetrics unit to treat a condition prior to delivery, and the last two visiting twins Stella and Brody in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The children were born prematurely, 28 weeks into pregnancy, and weighed two pounds, 11 ounces.
"It will be hard to leave after spending 10 to 15 hours a day here since Jan. 22 and two months before that – I feel like I am part of the family," Finnearty, of Merrillville, said. "The staff is wonderful; they treat my kids like they were theirs. I wouldn't have made it without these people and neither would have my children."
Finnearty said she was glad her doctor practices at the hospital, because she wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else.
"This is a very nice facility and having the NICU is a big plus – it is so advanced."
She recalled an instance in which Sudhish Chandra, MD, unit medical director, particularly touched her heart.
"I saw him warm the children's little caps in the light before putting them on them – what doctor does that?"
- From left, Kathy Podorsek, clinical director of The Birth Place; Sudhish Chandra, MD, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit medical director; and Lori Kemp, a unit nurse, tend to a patient.
- Audrey Finnearty is shown in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with her children, twins Stella and Brody. Finnearty spent some two months in The Birth Place prior to their premature births on Jan. 22 and says she will find it difficult to leave the hospital because of the care she and they have received.