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Kaweah Health Medical Center adds 47 beds to address possible COVID-19 surge

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

Medical Center celebrates the birth of a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

VISALIA, CA – Kaweah Health Medical Center has 47 new beds available in the event of a COVID-19 surge; 23 of those beds opened today to care for Kaweah Health’s littlest patients.

After years of planning and construction, on Monday, Kaweah Health team members moved babies, some born at just one and two pounds, into the new state-of-the-art 15,000-square-foot Neonatal Intensive Care Unit located on the sixth floor of the Acequia Wing. The floor grows Kaweah Health's NICU from 15 to 23 beds in five times the square footage and offers patients and their families (one visitor amid COVID-19 visitor restrictions), private, single-family rooms.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s hard to believe moving day is finally here,” said Tracie Plunkett, Director of Maternal Child Health, which encompasses Kaweah Health' NICU, Labor and Delivery, Mother-Baby and Pediatric departments. “We are so excited for our mothers and their babies to be able to experience the privacy of their own room as they bond with each other.”

For a number of weeks, Kaweah Health has built bed capacity in the event of a potential COVID-19 surge. However, an executive order signed in March by Gov. Gavin Newsom is helping ensure that hospitals have enough beds for all patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order allows the California Department of Public Health to suspend the licensing requirements a hospital normally undergoes to open new areas to patients. Kaweah Health had completed build-out of its fifth and sixth floors and was set to open in spring, so it had the staffing and systems in place and met all requirements last week to get approval from the Office of State Health and Planning and Development.

Kaweah Health's fifth floor is now available to serve as an intermediate intensive care unit, but will sit empty until it is needed. With the additional beds, Kaweah Health now has 452 beds available for acute care at its downtown Visalia campus.

Kaweah Health's NICU, which is staffed by physicians from Valley Children’s Medical Group, was previously located in the Mineral King Wing, a building that opened in 1969. The unit itself was in the center of the building and was windowless. But in the new unit, babies and their moms can see the light of day. Each room features large windows in addition to soft lighting, personal refrigerators for mother’s milk or formula, and a sofa bed. Other floor amenities include a classroom for nurse trainings and parent conferences, a medication room, two designated supply areas, one large nurse station, and 12 smaller, decentralized stations providing nurses with a direct line of view to their tiny patients. In celebration of the NICU’s opening, new moms received balloon bouquets and a celebration lunch.

Currently, to protect patients, visitors and staff members, Kaweah Health has a no-visitor policy in place throughout the hospital; however exceptions are made for Labor and Delivery, NICU, and Pediatric patients. Hospital-wide, Kaweah Health has implemented additional measures to clean and disinfect surfaces to ensure patient, visitor and staff member safety amid concerns of COVID-19.

Marlena Talamantez’ son Asher John, who was 1 pound and 13 ounces when he was born at 26 weeks, was the first baby to make the move into the new NICU. “It’s amazing. It feels so comfortable in here and it’s so lit up,” said Talamantez, who expects her son to be in the NICU until June 10 – his due date – or longer. “All of the light here gives me hope.”

Xenora Gonzalez’s daughter Xayleigh, who was born at 36 weeks, was the second baby to move into the NICU. Gonzalez walked beside her daughter as they moved her crib. “She enjoyed it, seeing sunlight for the first time,” said Gonzalez, who noted that she will appreciate the privacy when it comes time to pump breast milk. “I am already more comfortable sitting down with the baby and you could tell that she enjoyed it too, because these chairs rock.”

Approximately 5,000 babies are delivered each year at Kaweah Health, whose Family Birthing Center provides maternity and infant health care. It offers the community a 21-bed labor and delivery unit, a 42-bed postpartum unit, the largest labor/delivery triage area in Tulare County, anesthesiologists, Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialists for high-risk deliveries, along with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) staffed by physicians from Valley Children’s Medical Group. Kaweah Health's NICU is community designated by California Children’s Services as providing care for infants as early as 26-weeks gestation and has a neonatologist/pediatric hospitalist on site 24/7.