Health system rolls out mobile NICU
A new neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, transport vehicle has hit the road to take babies from a level two NICU hospital to a level three NICU hospital when needed.
Mercy Health’s new mobile NICU will carry babies from the Mercy Health Hackley campus in Muskegon, a level two NICU hospital as of Jan. 1, to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.
“Building a transport service allows us to better serve our sister hospital in Muskegon and to provide them with transport services, so those babies now stay in system, which is a real benefit for them,” said Jette Benson, the NICU transport coordinator who oversaw the education, training and implementation of the service.
Prior to the introduction of the mobile NICU, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s didn’t accept transport patients, and patients born in Muskegon would be transported out of system to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital by its transport service.
Benson said the transition of Mercy Health Muskegon to a level-two hospital and the addition of a transport service came out of requirement changes introduced by the state this year.
“Mercy Health Muskegon had to apply for level-two nursery special care designation, and part of that designation involves partnering with another regional hospital in system to provide transport systems to a higher level of care if needed,” Benson said.
Benson said keeping patients in system is helpful for continuity of care.
“The same physicians and nurse practitioners that cared for them in Muskegon will care for them in Grand Rapids,” she said.
Also, with Mercy Health Muskegon becoming a level-two hospital, more babies will be able to remain in Muskegon for care.
Hospitals designated as level two can provide care for babies born at 32 to 36 weeks gestation and any full-term babies. Babies who are born in need of respiratory support, CPAP, a breathing tube or prolonged nutrition through an IV or central line need to be cared for at a level-three hospital.
Mercy Health anticipates transporting 50 to 60 babies annually.
The mobile NICU is equipped with level-three care equipment to ensure babies in transport are receiving the level of care they require.
“When you think about transporting adults, you think about transporting people from wherever they are at to their highest level of care in an emergency situation,” Benson said. “The difference with a NICU transport service is we bring the NICU to the patient wherever they are.”
The onboard equipment includes comprehensive breathing support devices, such as ventilators and heated and humidified oxygen for NICU transport babies who need assistance with breathing, and a special fluid-based mattress that warms a baby's temperature to provide better thermal control of patients during transport.
The NICU transport team underwent rigorous training to simulate potential real-life scenarios while the vehicle was moving.
Mercy Health said more than three dozen NICU clinicians are trained as members of the transport team, including a dozen advance practice providers specializing in neonatology, respiratory therapists and NICU nurses.
"We hope to promote this new service and work collaboratively with obstetricians in Muskegon to provide best care and enable them to deliver patients as needed, without worry about the baby's care after delivery," Benson said.
Since launching the mobile NICU on Jan. 1, five babies have been transported from Muskegon to Grand Rapids for care.