By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
To a person, the sentiment is the same: “It’s been a long time coming.”
“It” is the new Riley Maternity Tower, which officially opens for business Sunday morning, Nov. 7, at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
People who’ve been around the Downtown Indianapolis IU Health hospitals for a long time have been waiting for the day when mothers and babies could be together in the same space, even when a newborn or new mom requires specialized or ICU care.
“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” said Dr. Izlin Lien, medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Riley at IU Health Methodist Hospital, which is moving to the new maternity space at Riley.
“Especially in the last 18 months with COVID and what it’s done to our unit at Methodist,” she said. “My heart and every health provider’s heart hurts when we have to separate mom and babies right after delivery. That has been the toughest part of our job.”
ALL UNDER ONE ROOF
Dr. Laura Haneline, division chief for Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Riley, echoes those sentiments.
“We’re really excited about being able to take care of mothers and babies under one Riley roof,” she said. “Having the NICU and the high-risk deliveries adjacent to the medical and surgical subspecialists they need and need quickly will really be a benefit for those patients.”
Now, rather than whisking a fragile baby away from its mother at Methodist to be cared for at Riley, both can be cared for in the same space. The same holds true for moms who suffer complications and require specialized care. All of it is available in the new Maternity Tower.
“For mothers, it’s really hard to be separated from their babies,” Dr. Haneline said. “Sometimes it’s unexpected when a baby needs to be in the NICU and it may be short-term, and sometimes we know prenatally that there are going to be issues. But to have their baby completely separated from them, taken by ambulance and in another building is really, really hard.”
While many advocated for a space that offered a full complement of women’s health services, the Maternity Tower is a huge advancement in the care of pregnant women and their families, physicians say.
“You have no idea how excited I am and our NICU team is,” Dr. Haneline said. “It’s almost like coming home. I know a lot of the nurses (labor and delivery/NICU at Methodist) had never really worked at Riley, but over the past several years they’ve started to feel a little more like a Riley team.”
Even though the two entities at Riley and Methodist were in effect one team, it’s hard to feel like a team when you’re geographically separated, she said. The mile distance from Methodist to Riley might as well have been 50 miles, one physician said.
“Being together will facilitate all of our missions, including further development of patient care improvements, research, teaching and sharing of quality improvement initiatives and resources,” said Dr. Haneline, who leads a group of 47 neonatologists and has been on the Riley faculty since 1997.
Not to mention, it will improve access for babies to the medical and surgical subspecialties they need.
“The environment itself is going to be so much better for mothers and families,” she said. “We are moving into a new, beautiful unit with single patient rooms, with a dedicated family area where they will have space to store things and a lounge area. That is a big benefit for our families.”
There are 45 single-patient NICU rooms in the new tower, in addition to two rooming-in rooms and four spaces for observation or short-term admissions. In total, that represents room for 51 babies, Dr. Haneline said. Newborns who need surgery or more critical care will be moved to the adjacent NICU in the Simon Family Tower.
NICU DOC AND FATHER OF QUADRUPLETS
Dr. David Boyle, Riley neonatologist and former medical director of the Fetal Center at Riley, knows personally and professionally how important the new Maternity Tower will be for families.
His wife, Maureen, delivered quadruplets at University Hospital back in 1990, before it was part of the IU Health system. Born at 33 weeks, the quads did not require NICU-level care and were able to stay in the University special-care nursery for a few weeks before they were discharged.
Today, those quadruplets are healthy, successful adults, two of whom work in the Riley NICU – one as a nurse at Riley North and another as coordinator for the NeuroNICU program Downtown.
He knows how hard it would have been for his wife to be separated from the babies just after birth if they had needed to be transferred.
“There are so many times I can remember over the years where a mother has actually left Methodist against medical advice because she wanted to be with her baby,” he said. “We tried many things to help facilitate visitation, but it’s hard.”
Barbe Hidde, a longtime NICU nurse at Methodist who has been working closely on the Tower project with her colleagues, remembers hearing about the plans when she started work decades ago.
“At that time, my hiring manager said, ‘Just so you know, there’s a good chance we’ll be moving to Riley next year,’ ” she recalled with a laugh.
She has been pleased to lead tours of the new tower for the past several months.
“It’s very exciting to me, it’s finally happening,” she said. “And not only is it happening, it’s a beautiful space, and we’re going to give amazing care to our moms and our babies here. I’m glad I held on long enough to see it happen.”
Hidde transitioned to working with the Riley Maternity and Newborn Health service line, focused on perinatal levels of care, last year. Once the move is complete, she will return to that work as well as other training responsibilities.
Change is hard for some, she knows, but the Methodist NICU has been a Riley NICU for several years, so the practices are similar, and the care is the same, she said.
What’s unique is that in the past, moms who needed specialized care after giving birth were moved to the Methodist ICU. Now, they can be cared for in the new obstetrical ICU in the Maternity Tower.
“The amount of training that our Maternity Tower teams have been through is incredible,” she said.
RILEY SEES MANY ADULT PATIENTS
Of course, Riley has always taken care of babies. But people might be asking how a children’s hospital can take care of adult patients.
“People don’t realize that there are adult patients cared for at Riley Hospital all the time, whether they’re cardiac patients or cancer patients or cystic fibrosis patients,” said Dr. Boyle, one of a half-dozen neonatologists who staff the Fetal Center outpatient clinics for complex patients.
“The difference is the type of problems that a mother is likely to have are somewhat unique, but we have had incredible support from our adult colleagues. We will have three OB ICU beds embedded on that second floor. Those beds will be staffed 24-7 by an adult intensivist.”
In addition, he said, OB nurses are undergoing specialized ICU training to care for moms. Providers are cross-trained in intensive care medicine, as well as obstetric medicine.
Dr. Jim Lemons had a vision for a women’s hospital on the Downtown campus decades ago when he first joined the faculty. Even as Simon Family Tower was being planned (the first phase opened 10 years ago), Dr. Lemons was thinking about how the space could be used for a women’s hospital or maternity hospital, said Dr. Boyle, his colleague for 32 years.
“It was a no-brainer for many of us in pediatrics from the very beginning to do this,” Dr. Lemons said, acknowledging that he was not privy to all of the challenges that may have delayed this day.
“RIGHT THING TO DO”
The important thing is that it is happening now. And it is the right thing to do for women and children, he said, reflecting the pre-eminent care delivered by Riley neonatologists and all of the subspecialties in-house.
“It’s not just the surgeons or the urologists, it’s the ultrasonographers, the electrocardiographers, electroencephalographers, the interventional radiologists, perfusionists, nurses, therapists, the housekeeping person who makes sure the place is spotless,” Dr. Lemons said. “It’s all those people and more who have been living the life of caring for children at Riley. It’s all that family, that village.”
And it’s having all of those people together in one space that will encourage even more collaboration and support, which will enhance the experience for patients, he believes.
“The less tangible aspect is the importance of having our obstetric colleagues in the same space as our neonatologists and all the pediatric subspecialty colleagues,” said the physician, who spearheaded the founding of a Riley mother-baby hospital in Kenya in 2009.
It has been quite the journey these past months and years as the Maternity Tower has taken shape in Riley’s old NICU space before Simon Family Tower opened.
Dr. Boyle says the hard work is a credit to so many people – from leadership to nursing staff, supply chain to EVS, IT support to parent groups. The trick was to get everybody on board and rowing in the same direction, he said.
“I’m just really proud of all these people.”
NICU medical director Dr. Lien agrees.
“We have the most excellent nurses and respiratory therapists and physicians, so we already provide great care,” she said. “Now we’ll be doing it all in the same place.”
Sure, there are anxieties and sadness on the part of some team members who have worked at Methodist their entire careers. But there is excitement too, said Dr. Lien, who gets emotional herself when she thinks about closing the Methodist labor and delivery unit and NICU.
“We acknowledge all the good work that was done here,” she said. “And we move forward.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com