A place to tend ill infants

March 29, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

In a dimly lit room on the second floor of Anne Arundel Medical Center, five newborn babies lie in tiny intensive-care beds, hooked up to cardiac-apnea monitors, ventilators, umbilical vessel catheters and a host of other wires and tubes.

They are patients in the new neonatal intensive-care nursery, opened two months ago under the direction of Dr. Sandra Lee Loeb, the hospital's first neonatologist.

The nursery allows the hospital in Annapolis to care for premature babies and newborns with such problems as pneumonia and seizure disorders rather than send them to hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, where seriously ill babies from Anne Arundel County have been treated for years.

On Monday, Hayden Fisher, just 4 days old, rested quietly in his bed, with a clear plastic helmet covering his head. Hayden developed pneumonia when he was 2 days old and the oxygen helmet helped him breathe, his mother, Eileen Fisher, explained.

If it weren't for the new nursery, he would have been transferred to Johns Hopkins Medical Center or the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

"That would have been just awful," said Ms. Fisher, a Severna Park resident who was recovering from a Caesarean section and couldn't have traveled to visit Hayden. "That would have been traumatic for me, to not be able to see him. I am so thankful to have this here."

Her husband, Bill Fisher, shuddered at the thought of their son being moved to a hospital farther away.

"I work in D.C. And with her here and the baby in Baltimore, I would have had to spend all my time just shuttling back and forth," he said.

Anne Arundel Medical Center, the only hospital in the county that delivers babies, handled about 3,000 births last year. The vast majority of those babies went home with their mothers in one to three days. But the small number that needed special care were sent to hospitals in Baltimore and Washington for stays of as long as eight weeks.

Sharon M. Rossi, clinical director of perinatal services, said hospital officials considered convenience to the family one of the most compelling reasons for opening the intensive-care nursery.

Although some community hospitals have had neonatal nurseries for years, Anne Arundel was so short on space that administrators did not think they had room for one, explained Ms. Rossi.

But in April 1992 the hospital adopted a policy -- called "rooming in" -- of allowing healthy babies to spend most of their time in their mothers' rooms, opening more space in the nursery. Later that year, the hospital also began plans for building a new women's hospital, the Rebecca M. Clatanoff Pavilion, at its site on Jennifer Road.

Hospital administrators decided they would have ample room for an intensive-care nursery when the new facility opened in 1995.

So, using the extra space in the hospital's current nursery made available through "rooming in," the hospital opened a smaller-scale nursery to "gear up" for the full-scale unit.

"We wanted to start planning for it while we were still here [in the main hospital]," said Ms. Rossi. "We wanted to get the service up and going, at least on a smaller scale, to get ready for the opening" on Jennifer Road.

The hospital recruited Dr. Loeb and her assistant, Teresa Blocker, a neonatal nurse practitioner, from Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla., to run the unit and hired four neonatal intensive care nurses. The current nursery can handle up to 10 babies in two rooms -- the first for the sickest infants, who then "graduate" to the second room when they are doing better. The new nursery at the pavilion will accommodate 12 to 16 babies, said Ms. Rossi.

Although the number of infants needing intensive care is relatively small compared with the number of births at the hospital, the nursery stays consistently busy because of low turnover, said Dr. Loeb.

The nursery cares for a combination of full-term babies who have medical problems, such as pneumonia or seizure disorders, and premature babies, who tend to have low birth weights and related complications, such as under-developed lungs. Babies born before 27 weeks or weighing less than 2 pounds and those with serious complications or who require surgery still will be transferred to Baltimore or Washington for treatment.

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