Neonatal intensive care unit coming to St. Albert

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St. Albert mother Amber Kent is thankful that the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert will be home to a new neonatal intensive care unit for premature and sick babies.

On Monday, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced that the Sturgeon hospital will be home to six new beds to treat babies who require a higher level of care. Currently there are no neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at the hospital. Babies who need extra care are taken into Edmonton for treatment.

Kent’s twin boys Caellum and Bodie Kent were born July 12 at Sturgeon hospital. The babies were born more than 10 weeks premature. By the time she woke up from the C-section her babies had already been transferred to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

“Being [at the Sturgeon]and knowing I shouldn’t be here at 28 weeks pregnant, it was a very scary time. I knew I shouldn’t be here. I should be somewhere with a NICU for these boys. Knowing that these resources weren’t here was a little terrifying,” Kent said.

The provincial government is dedicating $2.3 million dollars to the unit, which will include an open NICU pod with four beds, an additional two private NICU beds, a secure medication room, a nursing station and a large family washroom.

Hoffman said that the NICU unit will help serve the growing community of St. Albert.

“There are so many more babies being born here each and every year and of those babies, we know many of them require neonatal intensive care services,” Hoffman said. “Keeping them closer to home, keeping them with their families and giving them the expert care they need while staying close to home is a win-win.”

Kent said that she was fortunate enough to be transported to the Royal Alexandra eight hours after her boys were born, but she said many moms will have to wait three or four days after their C-section to see their kids.

“Having the NICU here allows the mom to feel that much more connected with their kid and know that they are safe,” Kent said.

On top of the government funding, the Stollery Children’s Hospital foundation will donate an additional $2.5 million to help cover the costs of some of the equipment and additional resources. The new unit will work under the expertise of the Stollery.

Ernest Phillipos, neonatologist, said that the new beds will meet the needs, but hopes that it is just the first step. Phillipos said that an efficient neonatal unit would have 18 beds for babies.

Phillipos said that the new unit in St. Albert is important because keeping babies and their families together is their first goal when making a care plan for the newborns.

“We are transforming the neonatal unit into care by parents. It is very important and vital for the development of babies,” Phillipos said.

The neonatologist said that even with the addition of the beds, some high-risk babies will still need to be moved to bigger centres.

Typically the region, which extends north of Red Deer and south of the North West Territories, transports around 600 high-risk babies every year.

Last year the Sturgeon hospital saw just under 3,000 births with about 100 babies having to be transported to neonatal units in Edmonton.

The new St. Albert unit will re-purpose space within the existing hospital.

Funding from the program comes from the Infrastructure Maintenance Program.

In 2017, the Surgeon hospital had 2,996 births and it is anticipated 3,500 babies will be born at the hospital in 2018. The new unit will serve northern Edmonton and the communities surrounding St. Albert.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.