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A special place: Sanford’s nursery for special care infants to open next week

Lisa Johnson, director of women's and children's services at Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, shows how new equipment will work in the special care nursery at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center on Monday during an open house. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 3
Katelyn Tingelstad, registered nurse at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, holds Gwendolyn Francesca Wroe, who had a long-term stay at the medical center before the special care nursery was open. Jamie Salmonson (left), Gwendolyn's mother, came to the open house on Monday at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 3
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the special care nursery at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center was held on Monday at the medical center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 3

BEMIDJI—When Jamie Salmonson's daughter Frankie was delivered by emergency cesarean section eight weeks before she was due, mother and baby had to spend weeks at the University of Minnesota hospital, hours away from home.

But Sanford Bemidji Medical Center's new special care nursery aims to help mothers like Salmonson and premature infants like Frankie receive care locally. The nursery, set to open the third week of January, is equipped to treat special-needs babies born after 32 weeks of gestation; previously, Sanford could only care for babies born after 34 weeks.

"If this had been available I wouldn't have had to be transferred," said Salmonson, who attended the nursery's open house on Monday. "Originally they only took 34 weeks on, and I was at 32 weeks, and that's what they lowered it to."

The $1.4 million nursery has been in the works since March, according to Lisa Johnson, the medical center's director of women's and children's services. After seven months of construction, Johnson called the finished product "surreal."

"It's more than I expected," Johnson said. "When you see something on the blueprint you don't realize how spacious it's going to be, and when you see the color palette and all that, it's really hard to picture it. And then when it all pulls together it's just way more than we were expecting."

The nursery comprises 10 individual patient rooms with warmers for the babies and equipment to monitor heart rate, breathing, oxygen levels and more. It will only be used for newborns with special needs.

In addition to premature babies like Frankie, the facility is also equipped to treat infants exposed to drugs during a pregnancy. Data provided by Sanford shows the number of those newborns has risen since 2014, when 60 child protection holds were placed on babies on the day of delivery due to illicit drug use. In 2015, that number increased to 74 and in the first half of 2016, 39 holds were placed.

The rooms in the new nursery can be kept dark and quiet when appropriate. Families will also have more access to the newborn, Johnson said.

"We're now able to provide that private, quiet environment that so many of these infants thrive in," she said. "(It) also allows us really to treat the whole family...this really facilitates that family bonding and those intimate moments that those parents need with their babies."

Sanford Executive Vice President Bryan Nermoe spoke briefly at the open house before a ribbon-cutting ceremony. He said Sanford has been looking forward to the opening "for a long, long time."

"This project has been something that our staff, our physicians, our providers and our patients have been talking about for months and years," Nermoe said. "To see it here, open, ready to go, I can't tell you how exciting it is for us."

The medical center still has work to do before the nursery can fully open for business. Some equipment and furniture must still be brought into the rooms, but employees like Katelyn Tingelstad, a registered nurse who will work in the nursery, are already excited to move in.

"Being in a brand new facility is exciting to be a part of," Tingelstad said. "Eventually we hope to expand and be able to keep more and more babies here."

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