All NICUs operate at a specified level of care, from Level I providing routine well-baby care to Level IV helping those in need of the most advanced care. “Before the addition of our transport team, a number of babies from our area were sent to Houston to receive the level of care they needed,” says Lauree Thompson, M.D., medical director of the NICU at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth. “By caring for those babies here, we enable families to stay closer to home while their babies get the appropriate level of care.”
The NICU transport team at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth consists of 10 nurses and 10 respiratory therapists, all of whom have been thoroughly trained in caring for and transporting infants in need of intensive care. The team uses an ambulance equipped with specialized neonatal transport supplies to pick up preterm or critically ill infants requiring more care than their delivering hospital can accommodate.
Care From the Very Start
Each nurse and respiratory therapist on the team has at least two years of experience in the CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth NICU. One nurse and one respiratory therapist will accompany patients on each transport, and the team is prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
“Our Level III care begins when we walk in the door,” says Kelli Huebel, RN, neonatal program coordinator at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth. “If we are transporting an infant from a lower-level nursery or the emergency room, they begin receiving the level of care they would in our NICU from the moment we arrive.”
“Not many people expect to need Level III NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] care,” says Kelli Huebel, RN, neonatal program coordinator at CHRISTUS Southeast Texas St. Elizabeth. “We can be there for babies when they need us, all while keeping their families close to home.”
Having a Level III NICU close by also allows for mother/baby interaction such as kangaroo care, in which babies are placed skin to skin with a parent. Research has shown that kangaroo care helps regulate infants’ breathing and heart rate, and can even help them gain weight and spend more time in the deep sleep part of their sleep cycle.
“Our focus is on keeping families and babies together as much as possible,” Kelli says. “Bringing in the transport team is part of that. We’re also able to bring in donor breast milk for premature or sick infants in the NICU if mothers can’t provide breast milk for one reason or another.”