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Andrea Malcom sat in a private room in the neonatal intensive care unit at Kearney Regional Medical Care’s Maternity Care Center last week cuddling her daughter Baylee. Born eight weeks early on Dec. 19, Baylee weighed just three pounds, six ounces then. Now, nearly four weeks later, she is up to four pounds nine ounces.

The cozy, peaceful afternoon is the antithesis of Jan. 16. 2017, the day the Maternity Care Center opened. A blizzard was battering Kearney that day. “I came in, but the whole town was shut down,” Patty Schulte, R.N., said.

No babies were born that day, or that night, or the next day, either. Six days later, at 3:24 a.m. Jan. 22, Dr. Keri Philpot delivered the center’s first baby, Elias Allen Michael Barker, son of Jillana and Travis Barker of Broken Bow. Since then, it’s been busy.

One month later, on Feb. 26, the first set of twins was born. The first set of triplets arrived on April 27-28. Two of them were born April 27; the third came right after midnight April 28. The busiest month was August, when 64 babies were born. The busiest week came in October, with 20 births. The unit’s 500th delivery happened Nov. 19. By December, 561 births were recorded for 2017, including 248 girls and 313 boys.

Since then, 21 more infants were born at KRMC. As of Jan. 16, the end of its first year, 582 babies had been born in the 19,000 square-foot unit of the hospital at 804 22nd Avenue. That’s almost 20 percent more than what hospital administrators projected for the first year. This year, 600 births are expected.

“It’s gone really well this first year, as smoothly as possible,” Maternity Services Manager Dani Peisiger, R.N., said. A nurse for 12 years, she joined the unit four months before it opened to work on policies and procedures, hire the staff and oversee training.

The maternity wing, part of a $40 million KRMC expansion that included an emergency department, an intensive care area and a helicopter pad, has a separate entrance on the hospital’s southeast corner. It has 10 spacious, private labor and delivery rooms, two antepartum rooms, a surgery room and two on-call rooms for doctors. Its four-room, Level II neonatal intensive care unit is licensed for eight infants.

Mothers labor and deliver in one bed. There is no nursery; newborns stay in bassinets in their mothers’ rooms. “Babies never leave their mothers’ sides now,” Peisiger said. “We believe in skin-to-skin care. If mothers need a break, we’re happy to cuddle with those babies. It’s the best part of our job.”

The department’s 45-member staff includes lactation counselor Victoria DuPreez, unit secretary/notary Charity Marr and maternity educator Tanya Sandoval. Its 35 nurses have a combined 153 years of experience.

Also happy with the unit is Sara Fecht of Kearney, the hospital’s nursing services assistant who graduated last May from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She had done a human relations internship at KRMC during college and accepted the job the day she received her diploma. She works all over the hospital, but as the Maternity Care Center prepared to open, Fecht wrote policies and designed crib cards and footprint cards. She also schedules the staff.

“I love it here. I always wanted to help people. This is totally where I wanted to be,” she said. “I look at the nurses. They’re a different breed. I notice how well the staff works together, how happy they are. The patients are happy. They just want to hold their babies. I’ve found family here.”

That echoes what Peisiger says: “We have such good teamwork. People pitch in wherever they’re needed. It’s all hands on deck.”

Peisiger was on hand when the triplets were delivered last April after 32.5 weeks of gestation. For that event, 20 people crowded into the delivery room, including a pediatrician and NICU nurse for each baby, and 14 others. “It went like clockwork,” Peisiger said. “When I see processes like that, I know what we’re capable of.”

Malcom, who spends five to seven hours each day in the NICU with Baylee, likes the fact that she can be so hands-on with her newborn and help with baths and feedings. “Everyone here goes above and beyond the call of duty for my comfort,” she said. Her husband John appreciates that, too.

Dr. Philpott, who delivered the center’s first baby a year ago, said her patients appreciate the big rooms, kind nurses and its separate entrance. She said three patients who delivered there last year are expecting again and plan to come back in 2018.

“The nurses and staff throughout the entire hospital are very competent and kind. They love their jobs and where they work, and it shows. In the end, it’s the people who make the difference,” she said.

Dana Wright, the hospital’s marketing coordinator, said the Maternity Care Center has helped facilitate a relationship with our Kearney pediatricians and attracted a younger crowd of patients. “It has also increased our overall patient volume. We are seeing patients come here for more than just delivering babies.”

For Fecht, the center is one of her favorite parts of the hospital. She has seen nurses pass out crayons to siblings of newborns. “The doctors are willing to teach and guide. I’ve never seen them get frustrated or upset. Doctors never ask nurses to do anything they wouldn’t do. I’ve seen nurses sit and talk to patients for two hours. This isn’t just a job for them. It’s a passion.”

Added Peisiger, “Mothers who want to see the unit can simply call and come over for a tour. Where mothers deliver is their choice. We just want healthy babies.”

Kearney Hub Staff Writer