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What It Means to Have a Level III NICU Close to Home

Pregnancy and delivery can be a stressful time for expectant parents. For even the healthiest moms and most routine pregnancies, having access to top-of-the-line care close to home can contribute to their peace of mind.

One example of elite care is the presence of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). These specialized nurseries have all of the tools necessary for treating issues like maternal or newborn distress, low birth weight and premature birth.

With high-risk pregnancies or complicated deliveries, having local neonatal intensive care options can have a lifetime of impact.

“Choice of hospital has a significant impact on the outcome for families,” said Eddie Chang, MD, chief of Neonatology at Abington Hospital - Jefferson Health. “For example, receiving treatment at a hospital with more experience in babies with the lowest birth weights can result in a 15 percent improvement in survival.”

Abington Hospital’s Andrew Tesauro Special Care Nursery is a Level III NICU.

“We are fortunate to be positioned to deliver the best potential outcomes for the highest-risk newborns,” said Dr. Chang.

What is a Level III NICU?

Similar to hospital trauma centers, NICUs are categorized by level. The level assigned is based on the capabilities of the staff and equipment, with a Level III being the highest level of care.

Beyond an assigned numerical level, Level III NICUs are subcategorized by A, B and C. Abington Hospital is a Level III B, which means it is equipped to handle babies who need mechanical ventilation, access to pediatric specialists, advanced imaging and some surgeries that require anesthesia.

“We are judged on the care options and outcomes for mom and baby, as well as the volume of patients seen annually,” said Dr. Chang. “A level one or two nursery is limited and cannot care for the most severely ill babies.”

Who Requires a NICU?

According to Dr. Chang, the vast majority of mothers who come to Abington Hospital have no trouble with delivery and will never see the NICU. However, roughly 10 percent of all deliveries will require the specialized nursery.

Most of these women will be aware of their elevated risk profile and create their birth plan around the availability of emergency services. However, that isn’t always the case.

“Sometimes something unexpected happens in labor or delivery,” said Dr. Chang, “and our obstetrical colleagues will care for the mother while we care for the baby in the NICU.” There are also some women who are in labor or recently gave birth that require transportation from other local hospitals. “But we prefer to begin treating the mom while she’s still pregnant,” he added.

What to Expect at Abington Hospital

Among the services at Abington Hospital is the first and largest whole body cooling program in Montgomery and Bucks counties.

“Full or near-term babies who aren’t receiving enough oxygen or blood flow from the umbilical cord during the birth process can benefit from therapeutic hypothermia, also known as whole body cooling,” said Dr. Chang. The brief reduction in body temperature decreases the potential for permanent brain injury due to reperfusion injury.

Other programs offered at Abington Hospital include highly-specialized nutrition and diet programs for premature babies, as well as the availability of donor breast milk as part of an all-human breast milk diet for the highest-risk infants. The birth and delivery staff also work closely with physicians specializing in surgery, urology, radiology, neurosurgery, neurology, ophthalmology and cardiology, who are all available to consult on-site.

“Everyone is working together and caring for patients throughout their time with us,” said Dr. Chang. “Neonatal care is a team sport, and our team includes over 100 nurses, breathing specialists, social workers, feeding specialists, nurse practitioners and double-board certified neonatal doctors.”

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