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Keeping Care Close to Home

  • Author: Jasmyn Galindo
  • Date Submitted: Nov 4, 2022
  • Category: Team Stories

The trip to Kaweah Health’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) takes you up the elevator to the sixth floor of the Acequia Wing and into the wide halls and quiet spaces where an amazing team of professionals work together to care for premature or sick babies.

Moving through the unit is at once calming. Only the gentle beeping of equipment and hushed voices of the nurses rise above the quiet. A brief look down the hallway reveals rooms equipped with modern, high-tech equipment and busy staff moving with a focused determination. Posted near the monitor at a nurse’s desk is a small note that reads, “Keep calm and believe in your baby,” a reminder of the challenges this staff rises to meet every day. And while the NICU is an impressive facility with the best equipment and technology around, it is clearly the compassionate and experienced staff that make this team so special.

Jasmyn Galindo was 25 weeks pregnant with her first child and getting ready for bed when she felt a strong pain in her abdomen. “You feel a lot of strange things when you’re pregnant, but I knew something was wrong,” she says. Jasmyn checked into Kaweah Health Medical Center that night, her water breaking right as she arrived. After spending eight days there, she gave birth to her son Elijah at 26 weeks. Elijah was tiny, weighing just under two pounds. The NICU team checked him in and began preparing him for his journey home. Over the next two months, Jasmyn stayed with Elijah day and night, only leaving to shower and change clothes. Each private patient room includes space and furniture for moms and family members to comfortably spend the night.

On this day, she has a lot to be thankful for – Elijah, now 5 pounds, 4 ounces, just passed his car seat test, and is clear to go home the next day. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she says with a big smile. “The whole staff, everyone who came to talk to me while I was here, was so kind and compassionate. The doctor explained everything and answered all of my questions. I learned a lot about how to care for my baby too.”

On this last day in the NICU, Jasmyn feeds Elijah a bottle and spends some time holding him and being close. Encouraging messages and mementos of milestones decorate a small whiteboard near the long couch where she slept all those days. Elijah’s caring staff have put personal messages in a colorful children's book for him, a small congratulations from all who touched his life during his time here.

There are many team members here, all of whom are all committed to providing the best care possible for our smallest patients. In the Kaweah Health NICU you will find a group of specialized caregivers who all play an important part in getting babies home:

Neonatologists. Kaweah Health’s neonatologists are physician specialists from Valley Children’s Hospital who work full-time at Kaweah Health. A neonatologist is trained specifically to handle the most complex and high-risk situations facing newborns.

Pediatric hospitalists. Kaweah Health’s pediatric hospitalists are also physician specialists from Valley Children’s Hospital who work full-time at Kaweah Health. A pediatric hospitalist is a pediatrician who specializes in caring for children while they are in the hospital. This doctor works with your child's regular pediatrician while your child is in the hospital and helps with follow-up care.

Neonatal nurses. A neonatal nurse, or NICU nurse, is a registered nurse with specialized training in the care of newborn infants. NICU nurses have gained experience working with neonatal patients and often have become certified in a related area. They care for some of the most fragile patients at Kaweah Health, sick and premature newborns.

Social workers. There are two licensed clinical social workers in our NICU who collaborate with the health care team, helping patients and families understand and cope with the emotional and social issues that sometimes come with early births or seriously ill babies. They also identify community resources that will best meet the needs of the patient and family following discharge.

Therapists and specialists. You will find a number of staff working with babies and educating parents including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language specialists. Each one helps evaluate different aspects of a baby’s health as they grow.

Unit secretaries, nurse aides, and volunteers. It takes a lot of support to keep everything running and well organized, and our NICU team is focused on excellence throughout.

The Kaweah Health NICU is led by Felicia Vaughn, who has worked at Kaweah Health for almost 28 years, 22 of them in the NICU. It is clear from her commitment of more than two decades that the NICU is an incredibly meaningful department to work in. “The birth story is so important to every individual person,” Felicia says. “It's a unique area to work in because you get to participate in people's joy. It's so rewarding to be out in the community when someone comes up to you and says, ‘Oh! You helped deliver our baby,’ or ‘You did my baby's first bath!’ They truly remember you forever.”

One of the greatest benefits offered in the NICU is a quiet, private space for parents to eat, sleep, or even spend the night so they can be close to their baby. “We love that our parents can stay here and be close to their babies,” Felicia says. “Parents are so much more at ease when they know they can be right there just a few steps away.”

An ongoing collaboration with Valley Children's Hospital for the last five years has allowed more babies to stay in the community for their care. “The best thing we can do is keep them here, close to their families,” Felicia explains. “Through the partnership, we have five neonatologists from Valley Children’s who help care for them and keep them at Kaweah Health. If there are babies who need surgery or an even higher level of pediatric specialty care, they are transferred to Valley Children’s. It’s been a huge benefit to our parents in the community."

Prior to the partnership, any baby that was less than 29-weeks gestation automatically went to Valley Children's Hospital. For local parents like Jasmyn, the benefit is huge. Instead of a 100-mile round trip to Valley Children’s, baby Elijah was only minutes away. “Being here with him through everything made things so much easier,” she says. “I can’t imagine anything else.”