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WVU Medicine Children’s sixth floor tends to kids needing critical care, and their families

MORGANTOWN — A friendly West Virginia black bear greets families arriving on the sixth floor of WVU Medicine Children’s. It’s a place where kids face difficult medical challenges and friendly warmth is important.

The floor houses the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit.

“We do very much focus on the patient as a human, as a child,” said Dr. Mel Wright, PICU medical director and chief of pediatric critical care. That involves love and attention and playful interaction with the kids, and emotional support services for parents and patients.

The floor has 27 beds: 23 PICU and CICU beds, and four EMU beds. There are also four shell rooms for future expansion.

The PICU will see a wide variety of cases: metabolic diseases, especially diabetes; cancer patients with suppressed immune systems or infections or imminently life-threatening illness; traumas; nerurosurgery and general surgery patients; and respiratory illnesses — flu, COVID, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).

Children’s opened in September and RSV became an immediate issue, said Kevin Steurer, the floor’s nurse manager. The viral infection surged in late fall/early winter, and while the space is larger than what they had on Ruby’s sixth floor, it filled up. And hospital stays lengthened; kids had been staying three to five days; with the new surge, they were staying two weeks or more.

“I’m really thankful we have the expanded area — unfortunately, we need more.”

As with other Children’s units, this one reflects a change in how they are approaching care. Wright said, “We focused a lot on how to make the families more comfortable.”

Kids can choose from a variety of lighting themes. Each room has a family space with showers in the bathrooms to allow some privacy and comfort for families staying there. The care is better focused on emotional and mental well-being. “That’s all focused on making it a less-scary environment for a child.”

Patient care involves teamwork, Steurer said. “We all talk to each other, we all have the same goal in mind.” And they involve the families in their conversations.

The team includes two intensive care attending physicians on the floor during the day and at least one at night, nurses, fellows and residents, clinical associates, clerks, mid-level providers (nurse practitioners and physician assistants), therapists (respiratory, occupational, physical) and pharmacists. They round together each day and visitors may see a gaggle of them consulting together outside a room.

“There’s a huge amount of medical expertise that stays within the unit at all times,” Wright said.

We talked about the value of the nurses and Wright said, “Kevin is somehow able to find and hire some the most-wonderful people on the planet. These are people who want to be around children, to improve the life of a child.”

Steurer said he came aboard as a new graduate 11 years ago. “It’s just a privilege to be able to care for the families, the patients,” be part of their journeys — the good and the bad. “We really do make a difference in lives every day. I always have to remind myself how lucky we are to be able to be helping the kids of the state.”

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