Welcoming our tiniest patients into the community is one of Wentworth-Douglass Hospital’s greatest honors. Over the years, the need for our services has continued to grow. Remarkably, we anticipate more than 1,500 births to take place at Wentworth-Douglass in 2023. “The hospital has seen a rising demand for its birthing services and now delivers more than half of the babies born in our region,” said Nicole Pendenza, BSN, RNC-NIC, Assistant Vice President, Women and Children’s. “This increased volume created a need for a higher level of care. We are thrilled to now be providing Seacoast families access to specialized care closer to home and at a very important time in their lives.”
In order to offer advanced neonatal care locally, Wentworth-Douglass worked closely with Mass General for Children to launch a Neonatology Clinical Collaboration. Approximately two years ago, the Hannaford Special Care Nursery was opened as a Level IIB Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, caring for babies born as young as 32 weeks. “Collaborating with Mass General allowed us to bring a high-functioning Level IIB NICU to the Seacoast,” said Nicole. “Prior to increasing our level of care in this unit, families from our community would have had to travel to Boston, Manchester or Lebanon to receive care.” Such travel places a significant burden on families who, in addition to wanting to be with their newborn, may be struggling to balance responsibilities for work and other young children at home.
Thanks to the Neonatology team at Wentworth-Douglass, Seacoast families have access to elevated care in a local setting. The team includes a Mass General for Children neonatal provider, who is in-house 24/7, plus specially trained nurses, an occupational therapist, physical therapist, pharmacist, child life specialist, nutritionist, and social worker. “Our staff is simply amazing,” said Nicole. “The clinical collaboration has meant that we could care for babies born at an earlier gestation and increase the level of care available.” The hospital has also made critical investments in technology and equipment—upgraded monitors, incubators, and more—as part of its successful effort to establish a Level IIB NICU.
A unique feature of WDH’s Special Care Nursery is the family-integrated neonatal care (FINC) rooms. FINC rooms allow families to remain in the same room after delivery so that families and their newborns are not separated. “Our unit includes a nine-bed single room NICU and four FINC rooms,” said Nicole. “Since opening, we had a consistent census of 8-10 babies cared for by our Neonatology team. It is so important to provide this clearly needed care to our community.”
Having a Level IIB NICU in the community can spare babies the disruption of being transferred to a tertiary care facility and the separation of families and baby. Also, for babies born earlier than 32 weeks, they can receive the care they need at the WDH NICU when they are ready. “Once babies are not critical, they can be transferred from tertiary care and can be moved into our NICU, it offers them a therapeutic and calm environment for them to thrive and grow,” said Nicole. “Our staff encourages parents to fully engage in their newborn’s care, and that improves outcomes.”
In a further example of WDH Women and Children’s collaboration within the MGB system is, the Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) program. With the generous gift from Newburyport Bank the WDH NICU purchased a RetCam to allow staff to examine premature infants’ eyes. This camera takes images of the eyes of babies under 32 weeks, when required. The WDH team partnered with colleagues at Mass Eye and Ear who read then diagnostic exams, saving families from traveling for retinal imaging. “Our service line lends itself very well to the opportunities of collaboration,” said Nicole. “It’s great to work with experts from Mass General for Children and Mass Eye and Ear. We are all a team, learning from each other and wanting to do the best for our patients.”
Nicole, who has decades of experience as a perinatal nurse in Boston and Manchester hospitals, is delighted to be a part of the Wentworth-Douglass team. “Our clinical collaboration with Mass General for Children and Mass Eye and Ear has brought a higher level of care to patients and families who really need it, and I am happy to be a part of that initiative. I’m also so proud of our staff, who have learned new skills and embraced caring for the community and its tiniest, most vulnerable patients.”
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