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WVU Medicine Children’s NICU offers family friendly environment for care of newborns

MORGANTOWN — After WVU Medicine Children’s opened in September, Dr. Autumn Kiefer recalls seeing a dad sitting in a comfy chair in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, holding his son and watching a Mountaineer football game.

“That was really just a normal thing that we never had before,” she said. “It’s a really big difference that’s nice for folks.”

Kiefer is the NICU medical director and division chief of neonatology.

The old unit, back on the Ruby 6th floor, consisted of pods — big rooms with sometimes upwards of 10 babies in them, she said. It offered a sense of community, but not privacy. It’s important to have that privacy and time alone with the family.

Along with the medical equipment expected in a NICU room, each room has a recliner chair, a couch that folds down into a bed, a TV and a big picture window to let in light and provide a view.

There are times, Kiefer said, when the baby doesn’t have to be in the incubator or hooked to special equipment. “At those times, it’s nice to have a little quiet space for moms, dads, grandparents and baby; just to be able to to do those normal things, like hold their baby, rock them and look out a window.”

There’s more privacy for breastfeeding moms, she said, and she’s seen more parents sitting and reading to their babies. “It’s not the room, it’s the people.”

The 52-bed NICU occupies the hospital’s entire seventh floor. Each floor has a theme and a mascot and NICU’s is a mama deer and her fawn.

Infants are admitted to NICU for a variety of reasons, she said: being born premature, 34 weeks or under; having breathing issues or special feeding needs; being born at term but may have an infection or need specialized services; and sometimes a baby is born on time but may have an organ formed differently and may need a surgery.

Average occupancy is north of 45 and close to 50 babies most days, Kiefer said.

Staff is key. “NICU really is a team sport,” Kiefer said. There are two doctors on duty. Each baby has a bedside nurse who oversees two-to-three babies. There are the doctors in training — residents and fellows — along with mid-levels; pharmacists who round each day; dietitians; and therapists — respiratory, speech, occupational and physical.

The hospital’s expanded NICU care is a boon for West Virginians, Kiefer said. “More and more babies don’t need to leave the state to get the care that they need.”

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