New NICU to Address Critical Community Need


Bringing a child into the world is one of the most gratifying of life’s experiences. But for parents of babies born premature or with medical complications, the time surrounding their children’s first weeks of life can also be frightening and stressful. Bozeman Health plans to add a new superpower, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), to help ease that burden and better serve the newest and tiniest members of our community. To give that effort a huge boost, funds raised at Bozeman Health Foundation’s Hospitality 2019: We Can Be Super Heroes will benefit the new NICU, which is slated to open in 2020.

A NICU combines advanced technology with a team of highly trained health care professionals to provide specialized care to medically fragile newborns. Currently, babies born at Bozeman Health who need this level of care are stabilized and transferred to a NICU at another hospital—usually Billings, Missoula, or Great Falls. “When a baby is transferred out of town, it’s not usually a quick stop,” explains Kim Kusak, RN, nurse educator at the Family Birth Center. “These families can spend weeks or even months away from home, which can create a huge financial and emotional strain.”

Giving birth to a sick or premature baby can be an unexpected change in course for any family. Being forced to quickly uproot and travel to another city for a prolonged medical stay only compounds the feeling of crisis. “Parents of sick babies want to be home with their support system around them,” observes Kim Herring, RN, Bozeman Health’s Director of Nursing. “Having our own NICU could prevent transfers for higher level babies.”

A Bozeman NICU will also benefit families in the smaller communities surrounding Bozeman, adds Susan Connell, RN, manager of the Family Birth Center. “Babies from areas like Ennis, Sheridan, and White Sulphur Springs will be able to come to Bozeman. The families won’t be in their own communities, but they won’t have to travel quite as far.”

In 2018, more than 1,100 babies were born at Bozeman Health and approximately 20 percent needed some sort of special care. The new NICU, to be located in the future Women’s and Children’s Tower will accommodate high-tech equipment, such as ventilators, incubators, and monitoring equipment. It will also feature a specially trained team of providers led by a neonatologist due to come on staff this spring. “A NICU team is more than nurses and doctors,” notes Herring. “It includes specialized pharmacists, respiratory therapists, nutrition services, speech and occupational therapists, and more.”

As construction on the facility continues, Family Birth Center staff will coordinate with a variety of hospital departments to build competencies. “We want to make sure everyone across the continuum is ready to treat these tiny patients,” explains Kusak. “For example, imaging will require special, smaller x-ray plates and radiologists who can read the images, and the lab will need to able to run tests from a tiny amount of blood. We will also be working very closely with the neonatologist, lactation specialists, and the pharmacy to supply oral and IV nutrition to these patients. “The most common problems addressed in the NICU are those related to premature birth,” according to Kusak. “Babies born before 32 weeks usually have underdeveloped lungs, which means that breathing is difficult. The NICU will provide specialized equipment and highly trained staff to address this most essential function,” adds Kusak.

“This is a really exciting time for us here at Bozeman Health as we prepare to care for the smallest and most vulnerable patients in the valley,” says Connell. “I’m feeling optimistic about the upcoming fundraising efforts,” adds Kusak. “Our community wants to support families and the NICU is a great way to do that.”


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