By Kristy Ann Pike
Often, advanced healthcare is associated with more: more tests, more labs, more money. But according to Dr. Erick Ridout, medical director for Dixie Regional Medical Center’s newborn intensive care unit (NICU), there are times when less is more.
Dr. Ridout points to the Institute of Medicine’s overarching six aims for improvement, which include “Healthcare must be safe,” “healthcare must be effective,” and “healthcare must be patient-centered.” In the NICU, that means “the emphasis is on awakening less, poking less, and doing less,” he said.
That may sound a little heretic coming from a doctor, but the proof is in the results. The outcomes for tiny babies cared for in Dixie Regional’s NICU ranked number one for all of the Intermountain Healthcare hospitals. Dixie also showed better outcomes than the majority of participating NICUs worldwide – including those in major medical centers and teaching hospitals located in large metropolitan areas.
That is according to data collected from more than 850 NICUs across the globe that participate in an international NICU benchmarking and quality improvement network. The NICUs’ extremely preterm babies — those born between 22 and 29 weeks — were evaluated based on 17 criteria.
Dr. Ridout explained how Dixie Regional got their results, “When we minimize the number of times we take blood and do labs, it improves eye and brain development.” In addition, it reduces the risk of newborns acquiring infections while in the NICU. “We don’t tolerate hospital-acquired infections,” he said, “period. That improves the outcome for our babies, and it saves resources.”
Of course, there are times when more is, well, more. More skin-to-skin contact and more time to bond with family are crucial in helping fragile babies thrive, and they are the mainstay of Dixie Regional’s NICU.
James and Leslie Courtright had the opportunity to experience that last fall when their twin girls, Yasmin and Sophia were born 11 weeks premature. “Our family spent 74 days in the NICU being shepherded through the most trying time of our lives by the most gentle and caring staff,” said Leslie. “Their support alleviated the stress of this difficult experience.”
Leslie says that the doctors and nurses provided excellent physical and emotional support for the whole family. “I never wanted to need to meet them, but now I’m so glad I did.” The care started even before Yasmin and Sophia were born. “The staff stopped into the labor and delivery room. That set the tone for the level of care we’d be experiencing.”
Later, when Sophia was ready to be discharged but her sister was not, NICU staff again went out of their way to take care not only of Yasmin, but of the whole family. “We live in Virgin,” explained Leslie. “We were so worried about dividing our time between the girls. The hospital was able to accommodate all of us in the pediatric unit so we could stay as a family.”
That intense family time was critical in Yasmin’s development, and may not have happened in a bigger city. “A lot of times the perception is that you have to go to a NICU at a tertiary hospital in a large metropolitan area for high-level care,” said Jeannette Cutner, NICU nurse manager. “We provide tertiary care in a community-based NICU setting and practice within a family-centered care model. Our patients are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.”
According to Cutner, there is another huge bonus that comes with having the NICU available in St. George. “Just the fact that families can stay here close to home is a big deal. Many of these families have other small children. With a NICU here, they are able to take care of their baby in the hospital and go home and put their other children to bed. Mother and father have time to bond with their critically ill child and still keep the home front stable. That ability helps marriages and families survive.”
As the regional population and the reputation of Dixie’s NICU have grown, the unit has been faced with the opportunity and obligation to treat sicker and sicker infants from communities farther and farther away — so much so that the NICU’s current space is too small to accommodate the increasing demand for care.
The hospital Foundation has announced that the 2011 Jubilee of Trees will be “giving new life to the holidays” by raising funds to help expand children’s services at Dixie Regional Medical Center, including the NICU.
All of this will help the NICU team continue to provide the kind of care that has been experienced by the Courtrights and countless other Dixie Regional NICU graduates. Today, “everybody is happy and healthy and kicking and cooing,” at their home says Leslie. What could be better?