Birthing center keeps newborns at home

By Mary Ann Ford

More premature babies can receive the care they need closer to home these days because OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington added neonatology services to its birthing center this fall.

“It’s a fabulous asset to have,” said Renell Composto, manager of St. Joseph’s Birthing Center.

A neonatologist, a doctor who specializes in the medical care of high-risk or premature newborns, or an advanced practice nurse is on duty at the Bloomington medical center 24/7, said Dr. James Hocker, medical director of OSF’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“They’re onsite and their specialty is to stabilize,” said Composto.

This is a really great model for all community hospitals,” said Hocker. “In the past, community hospitals relied on primary care providers to come in if there was a problem with deliveries.

“We’re trending away from that model,” he said. “St. Joseph needs someone to see newborns and to see if they are OK.”

Hocker said the neonatologist or advanced practice nurse on duty “regularly work in the Intensive Care Unit and attend high-risk deliveries.”  In addition, they cover the Emergency Department.

“If an infant (under 30 days old) comes in and has issues, we can keep them here,” he said.   

Each year, about 10 percent of McLean County babies are born prematurely, less than 37 weeks gestation.

Before OSF St. Joseph offered neonatology services in the birthing center, Hocker said babies born under 35 weeks gestation had to be transferred to OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.

Now the Bloomington medical center can serve babies born at 32 weeks gestation and above.

One baby receiving neonatology services at OSF St. Joseph recently was born 6 ½ weeks early. While the baby was stable at birth, Composto said the baby had to learn how to eat and control its own body temperature.

“Babies critically ill or too small (less than 3.5 pounds) will still go to Children’s Hospital,” Hocker said, “but they stay in the OSF network.”

Once those babies are stabilized, the hope is that they can return to OSF St. Joseph for their convalescence, Hocker said.

That transfer closer to home will help lessen the family’s extra burden of traveling out-of-town to visit the baby, said Composto.

It’s more convenient,” agreed Hocker. “They’re back in the community.”

Hocker and Composto said the addition of the neonatology services has been a smooth transition.

“It’s a very good unit,” said Hocker. “The nurses are very well trained.

“The nurses are thrilled,” said Composto. “They’ve learned many more things.”

The OSF St. Joseph Birthing Center has 15 private labor/delivery/recovery/postpartum rooms. Hocker said seven neonatologists and 12 advanced practice nurses on staff at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois are on rotation to serve at the Bloomington medical center.