MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s a special section of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at West Virginia University Children’s Hospital with the words “Wee Care” over the doorway; it’s called the Small Baby Pod. This is where the unit’s tiniest patients receive care and where a new approach to that care is taking place.

Mark Polak, M.D., director of the NICU, said that changes in the care of newborns have occurred in the last 30-plus years. Intensive care units have been established and expanded. Equipment and drugs have changed. But the one thing that has not really changed is the care plan.

A multidisciplinary team that included physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and palliative care staff decided that patients would benefit from a unified approach for care built on evidence-based best practices, Polak said.

“What we’re doing does not involve a new structure or a new piece of equipment but instead involves a change in thinking,” he said. “It’s a huge investment. But here the investment is in our minds.”

The Small Baby Pod houses babies born before the 26th week of pregnancy and those who weigh less than 2 pounds. Dr. Polak said these babies are born healthy but they are immature in all their organ systems, which can make them as sick as those who have the flu or were involved in a car accident. He anticipates that there will always be four babies in the pod, which is as many as it can hold. They will be there for about one month and then move to another part of the NICU for the remainder of their stay.

To better accommodate the needs of the babies, the lighting and sound levels in the Small Baby Pod are decreased. Babies born so prematurely should be in darkness, Polak said. These changes help make them more comfortable.

Another change involves recognizing and addressing the emotional needs of the parents. Expectant parents prepare themselves to take their baby home shortly after birth. Parents of NICU babies, especially those in the Small Baby Pod, face a hospital stay of six months or longer, Polak said. Palliative care staff can help the parents with the emotional upheaval of having a baby in the NICU.

“What we’re doing now is as close to ideal as possible based on what has been published,” he said. “We can make a big difference on their time in the hospital and not only increase the quality of care we provide but also increase their quality of life.”

For more information on WVU Children’s Hospital see

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 01-11-11