The latest step in the renovation of the Family Birthing Center at Carroll Hospital is designed to benefit babies who require more complicated care after birth.
Hospital staff hopes keeping them close to their families will improve the experience and even shorten the length of hospital stay for some babies.
“In the past, the baby was swooped away from the parents and brought to a special neonatal nursery eliminating the ability to bond. For new parents, neonatal couplet care will make an enormous difference. They can feel like parents instead of visitors in an open neonatal unit,” said Leslie Simmons, president of Carroll Hospital and executive vice president of LifeBridge Health.
The hospital previously debuted the new entrance to the Birthplace, with improved security and a renovated waiting room. A triage center in the Birthplace is only for patients who are pregnant, allowing them to avoid the emergency room.
The Family Birthing Center has remained open and functioning throughout the renovation, which is expected to be complete within the year.
Wednesday, rather than expecting families, the waiting room was filled with guests from hospital staff to donors to volunteers. They heard presentations about the new facility and were able to tour it with the staff who work there and are most familiar with the space.
The star of the show were the five neonatal couplet care rooms. The rooms house beds for babies requiring a higher level of care — maybe from being born prematurely or with respiratory complications or other illnesses — alongside a bed for their mothers all in the same state-of-the-art suite.
Healthy babies have been able to stay in a private suite with their mothers right away at Carroll Hospital for more than 20 years. But they are the first hospital in the state to offer the couplet care for sick or preterm babies requiring more specialized care.
Families may stay with these babies in the hospital for weeks at a time.
The suites also include a small space that can be walled off. A couch inside can be converted into a bed for family members who want to stay overnight and there are charging ports inside, making it an ideal if parents need to occupy older children.
Down the hall, the new family lounge has a kitchen and laundry room for all families in the Family Birthing Center to use.
Carroll Hospital can deliver any baby and can care for babies born at 32 weeks of gestation and greater, said Linda Grogan, the hospital’s executive director of women’s and children’s services.
The first family who used one of the couplet care rooms was a mother who gave birth to twins. They stayed there for about two weeks. The twins were born in the old special care nursery and moved into the couplet care with their mother as soon as it opened to patients.
“She said that in the old area she felt like a visitor to her babies. But in a new area, she felt like a mom again because she was fully involved and they had privacy into their own space,” Grogan said.
DPR Construction partnered with the hospital to do the construction, a project that has required rigorous planning to allow the Birthplace to remain open on its 24/7 schedule throughout construction. They have a staff that specializes in construction of medical facilities and have stayed in constant communication with the hospital throughout the process.
“For me personally, I worked on one of the first expansions here in 1996,” said Project Executive John Anania. “It's really cool to be a part of something that's continued to evolve and grow.”
For Dan Crutchfield, project superintendent, it was particularly personal. His first child was born at the hospital in November.
Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Cynthia Roldan said that even at other hospitals that provide family-centered care, mothers may not be placed in the same room as their baby until after they are discharged.
“We’re doing couplet care from beginning to end,” she said.
Neonatal couplet care offers, “more of an ongoing participation with with the baby. It's going to allow for increased breastfeeding. It's going to allow for improving vital signs. It’s going to allow for a decrease in the length of stay,” she said.
“And that's ultimately what we want. We don’t want babies to stay in the hospital longer than what they need. And if we can help a baby get better by just being present with their mother, that’s an easier solution than anything else.”
The workflow for staff in the unit has changed, but the adjustment has gone well, she said. “Going in and out of separate rooms is is different. So it might take a little bit more time because you're not able to see 10 patients all in one room quickly.”
But the upside is more privacy and possibly longer conversations between families and care providers.
“Just the fact that you were in an open room and the parent next to you could hear everything that you had to say, I'm certain that it prevented families for speaking as freely as they could have,” she said.
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The changes have been, “not just about a new facility … it’s more about the model of care,” she said. “Now that we've had several families, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, they wouldn't have had it any other way. Their anxiety level was decreased, they were more comfortable and I know that it impacted the care very positively.”