Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital NICU: 40 Years of Phenomenal Care Right in Your Backyard
As clinical manager of Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospitals NICU, right here in Park Ridge, part of my job is raising awareness about who we are and the great work we do here. For starters, we are the third largest neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU) in Illinois. We are a Level 3 perinatal trauma center, meaning we are able to provide the highest level of care to the most at-risk premature and critically ill newborns. Because of that status, we regularly transport babies from community hospitals in the Chicagoland area and beyond to our NICU, to ensure they receive the life-saving care they need.
Front and center on the multi-disciplinary team is the NICU nursing staff. Our nurses are a devoted group who work tirelessly to care for these babies. We have one of the lowest turnover rates of any NICU -- lower than the national average. Our nurses generally stay with us for an average of 14 years -- many stay for 20 years or more. One of our nurses, Ann Skwarek, has been with our NICU from the very beginning. And now, after 40 years of caring for babies, Ann is retiring.
I asked Ann recently to reminisce about her time in our NICU. What changed over those 40 years? What didn’t? What were some of her favorite memories?
Clearly, a great deal has changed, Ann noted. When she first started, ultrasound was not widely used, so life-threatening health issues often weren’t discovered until a baby was born or shortly after. So, “the NICU journey,” as she calls it, was very different then. Forty years ago, that journey usually began with the birth of a sick baby; now it frequently begins long before the baby is born, as advanced screening technology allows doctors and parents to get a fuller medical picture much earlier in the process. Earlier detection has led to earlier intervention, which ultimately results in better outcomes.
Ann feels that shepherding families through the NICU journey is one of the most important and rewarding aspects of working in the NICU. She and the other NICU nurses are equal part nurse, counselor and teacher, she said. Additionally, she believes that her skills as human being are just as important as her nursing skills. Those nursing skills, by the way, have evolved tremendously over four decades, with nurses are now able to do more to care for their patients than ever before.
Ann has gathered many, many wonderful memories over 40 years in the NICU -- sad ones too, but they are outweighed by the happy ones. She got a call recently from the father of a former patient -- a little girl who had been born at 24 weeks and weighed only 700 grams (about 25 ounces). The girl is now 16 years old -- vibrant, beautiful and healthy -- which Ann got to see for herself when the father invited her to join them for brunch. There’s also the ER doctor who was born at our hospital in 1978 and came back to visit our NICU, to see where it all began for him. All the nurses have their own stories, their own memories, Ann told me. It’s part of what keeps them going. That, and a true love for their work. A true love for helping babies and their families.
One thing that has remained constant --never waivered or waned -- is our commitment, our devotion, to providing the best care possible to sick babies, Ann asserted. I echo that sentiment. Our NICU is wholeheartedly dedicated to excellent-quality, family-centered care. Our multi-disciplinary approach and collaboration among highly-trained neonatal specialists is the key to our success. That and our love for helping babies and their families.
Here are some other things you might not know about our NICU.
- We are part of the Vermont Oxford Network, which is a non-profit voluntary collaboration of health professionals that develop, document and share NICU best practices. In fact, we are one of just 12 hospitals to have been named an “ideal NICU” by this prestigious organization. For us and our patients, that means we develop plans of care for each baby based on evidence-based best practices shared between experts from around the world.
- We also are an ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Center -- one of the few children’s hospitals that use a pediatric heart-lung machine. ECMO is a treatment for infants with cardiorespiratory failure.
- We’ve been here for 40 years -- in fact, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. When we started in 1972, neonatal care was a developing field and our department was small. We started with just 7 beds and a small, but dedicated, staff. Now, in 2012, we operate a 54-bed facility, with a large multi-disciplinary, collaborative staff that delivers the highest-quality, most-advanced care to the sickest newborns in Illinois and neighboring states, like Indiana and Wisconsin. On an average day, we are caring for 33 newborns faced with a variety of complex challenges.
- Handling those challenges is a team of highly trained, dedicated health professionals from a host of medical disciplines. Our NICU is truly the epitome of a multi-disciplinary approach. We can call upon practically every sub-specialty imaginable including cardiology, pulmonology, urology, neurology, respiratory therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy...the list goes on. These are doctors and professionals who are specially trained to treat babies with critical, life-threatening conditions. Having such a fine-tuned multi-disciplinary staff allows us to care for babies in a comprehensive and collaborative way and meet all their health needs. Everything they need is right here.
So now that I’ve shared this information with you, feel free to share it with others. If you or anyone you know is pregnant with a high-risk baby, tell them about the NICU at the Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital. You can find more information about us at www.advocatehealth.com/lgch/neonatology. We have one of the best facilities anywhere and we’re right here in your backyard. We are ready and waiting to help you through your NICU journey.
Pamela Jones-Gibson, MSN, RN, ME-BC is Clinical Manager of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Lutheran General Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge.