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Asher John Talamantez

  • Author: Asher John Talamantez
  • Date Submitted: Jul 20, 2020
  • Category: General Care

The smallest patients in Visalia now have a new space made just for them at Kaweah Health Medical Center – a state-of-the-art, 15,000 square-foot Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), located on the sixth floor of the Acequia Wing. This floor grows Kaweah Health’s NICU from 15 to 23 beds in five times the square footage, and offers patients and their families (only mothers and fathers amid COVID-19 visitor restrictions) private, single-family rooms.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Tracie Plunkett, director of Maternal Child Health, which encompasses Kaweah Health’s 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.”

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 windowless in the center of the building. But in the new unit, babies and their moms can get a regular dose of daylight during their stay. Each room features large windows in addition to soft lighting, personal refrigerators for mother’s milk or formula, and a sofa bed. Other amenities on the floor include a classroom for nurse trainings and parent conferences, a medication room, two designated supply areas, one large nurse station, and twelve smaller, decentralized stations providing nurses with a direct line of view to their tiny patients. In celebration of the NICU’s opening, babies received a commemorative onesie and new moms received balloon bouquets and a celebration lunch.

Marlena Talamantez’s son Asher John, who was 1 pound, 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.”

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.

Approximately 5,000 babies are delivered each year at Kaweah Health, where the Family Birthing Center provides maternity and infant health care. The center 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.