St. Luke's University Health Network


Nickys Place is Open

St. Luke's NICU Opens Nicky's Place

Parents of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Babies Have Private Home on Bethlehem Campus in Which to Stay. Other NICU Programs Unveiled.

Bethlehem, PA (2/23/2010) - Imagine being a parent of a premature newborn or perhaps multiples who are too small to go home. Consider the stress and anxiety associated with being separated from your baby/babies and the fatigue that hits you when traveling from home to the hospital and back again so you can visit every chance you get.

Instead, imagine being able to stay in the comfort of a private home on the same campus where your newborn resides in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Today, St. Luke's introduced Nicky's Place, a private home located on site of St. Luke's Hospital - Bethlehem Campus where parents can stay when their babies are patients in the NICU. The house was dedicated amid donors, NICU physicians and staff.

NICU babies usually stay in the hospital after mom has been discharged, and travelling home from hospital visits may be draining for new parents especially those who live outside the immediate area, said Andrew Unger, MD, St. Luke's Chief of Neonatology.

Nicky's House, a comfortable, private house where parents can stay when their babies are in the St. Luke's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Public and Private Donations Made Nicky's Place a Reality

The facility was purchased and renovated largely on public and private donations specifically to help ease the anxiety and stress associated with having a critically ill newborn.

“Having a baby in the NICU is a stressful experience,” remarked Chuck McIntyre, a local McDonald's owner and chairman of the McDonald's Lehigh Valley All Star Classic, a football game played each spring that brings together the region's best high school football players.

"The All Star Classic is a great event and the game has enabled us to raise well over a half a million dollars for various charities. We're happy to help St. Luke's to provide a home away from home for parents and siblings of children who are going through a very tough time. We also wanted to give these new parents some encouragement that their little babies are in great hands,” continued McIntyre. "A number of our 200-pound football players started life in the NICU as three-pound preemies, and they're obviously doing just fine now."

According to Patrick Bower, St. Luke's Vice President for Development, “Volunteers from the Lehigh Valley All Star Classic, Danet's NIC at Nite Golf Tournament and the St. Luke's Medical Staff and St. Luke's Auxiliary raised almost $100,000 to pay for renovations to the house. We are deeply thankful for their generosity.”

Families which stay overnight at Nicky's Place will pay a nominal guest fee.

Comprehensive Neonatal Program at St. Luke's

“One in ten babies born in the United States is admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit because of premature birth or other medical condition,” said Dr. Unger. “Some of these conditions are life-long. Other conditions of prematurity can improve with early developmental care.”

Some of the long term conditions that concern neonatologists are blindness, developmental delays, cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease, Unger explained.

St. Luke's Hospital & Health Network has a comprehensive neonatal program to address those health and development issues -- including St. Luke's “Watchful Eye” program, St. Luke's developmental clinic and St. Luke's licensed March of Dimes NICU Family Support program.

St. Luke's Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Program – “The Watchful Eye”

St. Luke's is the only hospital in the nation to follow a multidisciplinary model that helps prevent blindness in premature babies. St. Luke's has been following this model for more than a year.

A team of administrators, nursing staff, legal council, neonatologists, social workers and ophthalmologists developed the program together. The Watchful Eye program has been so successful at St. Luke's, it is being introduced to other NICUs across the nation through a recent agreement with Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company (OMIC), the largest nationwide insurer of ophthalmologists. As part of this partnership, OMIC will work with other NICUs across the nation to establish programs following St. Luke's model.

“Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding disease that develops in low birth weight, premature babies. The incidence of retinopathy of prematurity has increased greatly over the past twenty years, largely due to the fact that we are now able to save the lives of premature babies who would have died previously,” said Andrew S. Kimmel, MD, medical director of St. Luke's Retina Center.

“More than 60 percent of general hospitals in the United States today have no trained ophthalmologist to examine premature babies for retinopathy of prematurity in their neonatal intensive care units. This has been labeled a “crisis” by the National Eye Institute,” he continued.

According to Dr. Kimmel, the main reasons for this crisis is that a shortage exists of trained ophthalmologists who are available to do this work and that many of the ophthalmologists who are trained will not do it because there is a high rate of non-compliance by parents/caretakers to return for follow up visits.

The ROP team, consisting of Carol Scott, St. Luke's clinical nurse ROP coordinator, ophthalmologist Robert Kitei, MD, and Dr. Kimmel follow the guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics for retinopathy of prematurity. The team evaluates and manages all of the at-risk babies in both St. Luke's NICUs in Allentown and Bethlehem.

“Our job is to make sure that a timely and thorough retinal evaluation is performed, and that these premature babies are managed appropriately,” continued Dr. Kimmel.

“I am happy to report that since we started doing this program, we have not had one baby who has developed retinal problems that have gone undetected and untreated. Our team has a 100 percent success rate,” he concluded.

In addition to its unique retinopathy program, St. Luke's is one of only 70 hospitals in the country and the first one in Pennsylvania to participate in the March of Dimes Family Support Program.

March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program

As one of the first licensed programs in Pennsylvania, St. Luke's membership with the March of Dimes Family Support program establishes the hospital network as a participant with only 70 other NICUs in the country. The program serves to help parents cope with NICU hospitalization. Created by the March of Dimes with the assistance of NICU families, the program aims to reduce parental anxiety and confusion, while embracing a family-centered care philosophy. A combined committee of NICU “graduate” parents and NICU health care professionals collaborate to support family centered care.

The program is customized to meet the specific needs of the NICU staff and parents and incorporates special components to address the needs of siblings and extended family members. The network also offers continuing education for NICU professional staff on topics related to caring for the critically-ill infant and family-centered care.

The program includes an individualized education program for clinicians caring for the neonatal population and interacting with parents. As part of the program, a parent information center is established to provide NICU parents access to a computer, printed educational information and on-line sharing with other NICU families.

Representatives from the March of Dimes presented a $5,000 check today to support professional development activities for NICU staff and activities for parents.

The NICUs at St. Luke's

Reproductive medicine, high-risk pregnancies and multiple births require high quality medical care enhanced with the latest technology. The Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) at St. Luke's Hospital at both the Bethlehem and Allentown Campuses are designed to provide a high level of care for babies and families. The Level III NICU at St. Luke's Hospital-Bethlehem Campus and the Level II NICU at the Allentown Campus are leading facilities for highly specialized care for multiple births, premature babies and full-term babies with medical problems.
Staffed by fellowship-trained, board-certified neonatologists, neonatal nurse practitioners and a team of specially-trained nurses, lactation consultants, speech therapist and physical therapists, the NICU offers the very latest in technology and developmental techniques.

The NICU offers a family waiting room for visitors, a night watch room for parents to spend a night with their baby before going home and a private place to breast-feed or pump milk. Special lighting and noise control create an environment that is sensitive to the babies. Part of what St. Luke's NICU staff do is to work with parents to prepare them for caring for their premature infant.

“Our practice is to encourage parental involvement in all aspects of neonatal care,” said Gayle Thear, BSN, RNC, NE-BC, NICU Nurse Manager. “We like to encourage families bonding with their babies and experiencing the love that develops, while we take care of the child's medical needs.”

St. Luke's Developmental Rooms

Premature babies need an environment of limited noise and light in conjunction with controlled positioning and temperature in order to encourage optimal neurosensory development, according to Thear.

St Luke's recently completed the renovations of five beds, two semi-private and one private room called “developmentally sound rooms.” These rooms have special dimmed lighting to create a soothing atmosphere and sound-proof ceiling tiles and rubber flooring to help muffle sound. Each room has a sound meter that digitally monitors the noise decibel on a continual base.

Nurses position the babies in their incubators with the use of developmental tools so these tiny babies can develop muscle tone by pushing on the walls. The special devices contain the premature baby in a midline position to simulate the womb.

“My passion, and one of our goals at St. Luke's NICU, is to make sure we have done everything in our ability to help these tiny babies reach their greatest potential in developmental outcomes,” she said.

St. Luke's Developmental Follow Up Clinic

As part of St. Luke's commitment to improving developmental outcomes, NICU babies may be referred for neonatal developmental follow-up with St. Luke's neonatologists and pediatric physical therapist. The program, offered on an outpatient basis at St. Luke's North, serves to identify high-risk babies who are born before 32 weeks gestation to assess behavioral, cognitive, social, motor and overall neurodevelopment.

Early identification can lead to early referral to beneficial specialists such as audiologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, neurologists and others if needed. The program monitors children for the first two years of life, the most critical time to identify and address developmental delays, according to Maureen Rinehimer, PT, MS, MHS, NICU Developmental Clinical Coordinator.

“I have the distinct pleasure of helping our infants and families beginning with some families prior to delivery, in the NICU with a full developmental / physical therapy program and continue to follow the babies in the Developmental Clinic after discharge. Parents shared their appreciation with the early detection of developmental issues and referring the babies to many specialists to prevent developmental delays,” said Rinehimer.

Individuals interested in learning more about St. Luke's NICU programs, including Nicky's Place, or donating to support ongoing operations are encouraged to contact the St. Luke's Development Office toll-free at 1-866-468-6251.

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