On any given day, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital treats as many as 50 babies, all of whom were born preterm or have other serious health issues.
It can take weeks, or even months, for these babies to become healthy enough to go home—which means parents often must return to work or go home to be with their other children, leaving their babies in the hospital.
But thanks to gifts from Cornerstone Parking Group Inc. and the Transportation Club of Minneapolis and St. Paul, parents and family members now can stay connected with their babies by using a new software technology and iPads for two-way communication 24 hours a day.
For the past eight years, Jason Albrecht, manager of patient/family interactive services at the hospital, has been working with parents, bedside care staff and technology professionals to develop ways to keep parents and their infants connected. Until recently, firewall systems allowed a video connection between parents and their babies only while they were both on campus or at another Fairview hospital or clinic.
The new software system allows parents and their babies to stay connected from any location, at any time of day. In addition, doctors can display X-rays, ultrasounds, and other charts on the screen so parents can stay involved with their child’s medical care.
Parents download the software onto any device, such as an iPad or laptop, while the iPad hovers over the baby in the NICU and serves as the camera.
“Families who have used it say they can’t imagine not having it,” Albrecht said.
Ashleigh Moelter, a NICU family support specialist who’s had four children of her own in the NICU, works with families to discover how they would benefit from this technology. “Knowing that you will be able to log in, check on your baby, and say goodnight before you go to bed is very comforting,” Moelter said.
“Families feel involved in their child’s care and know what’s going on with their baby at all times,” Albrecht said.
Philanthropy was essential for launching this meaningful program for NICU families, Albrecht said. “We could not have started the project without the funding from donors,” he says. “Without them, we would still just be thinking about the project.”