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San Joaquin General Hospital NICU: Meeting a Community Need Through Hospital Expansion

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All three of my children were born early and yet I was surprised to learn that one in eight babies born in San Joaquin County is premature. Fortunately, San Joaquin General Hospital has been meeting the community need for a NICU since the 1980s and recently completed the expansion of the state-of-the-art NICU. The first California Children’s Services-accredited Community Level III NICU in the county houses 25 beds and a staff that specializes in the birth, care and rehabilitation of our county’s smallest residents. 

For the Family
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit combines technology with a family-centered approach. San Joaquin General’s Deputy Director of Patient Care Services Jackie Bagatta, RNC, MSN, CNS, shared with me the specialized teams and departments within the NICU. “Technology brings opportunity for new information that leads to better management and care of our patients,” she explained. The 17,000-square-foot expansion consist of four pods, with five to six beds in each pod serving 500 babies annually. “The expansion has given us the ability to meet our community need, while preventing overcrowding. With the expansion, we can accommodate for infectious control while improving the health of our babies and continuing to provide compassionate care for families,” Jackie shared proudly. 

Dr. Jeffery Lindenberg, MD, has been the Director of Newborn Services since 1985. He leads a team of two additional neonatologists board certified in perinatal-neonatal medicine. The nursing staff provides specialized care to infants and training to caregivers. The neonatal care includes respiratory therapists, neonatal clinical dieticians, board-certified lactation consultants, physical and occupational therapists. “Our babies have special needs that need to be met. We want our families to feel confident and have the skills they need to bring babies home,” continued Jackie. “Our family-centered approach keeps open communication between caregivers and our staff. We have two bonding rooms where mothers and caregivers spend time bonding with their babies while learning to care for their small bundles of joy,” Jackie smiled. “Parent instruction and education can begin as soon as your baby is born,” she continued. When the infant’s condition allows, parents can hold, feed, bathe, diaper and provide other care to their infant. NICU staff members instruct parents on newborn care and answer any questions or concerns while ensuring parents have the skills necessary to care for their baby at home. 

Special Attention
Cardiac screening and a High-Risk Infant Follow Up, or HRIF, are key components to the success of the NICU. Babies can be monitored by a nurse and a neonatologist for up to three years. The HRIF Clinic staff specialize in developmental tests and screening that give these babies an optimal opportunity for healthy development. In addition to the specialized care given to the babies, the NICU receives breast milk from the Mother’s Milk Bank, a donor breast milk program providing breast milk to newborns when mothers are unable to nurse. The breastmilk is screened and gives newborn babies antibodies to fight infections such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC. NEC affects the intestines of premature babies that are fed formula but breast milk has been proven to dramatically reduce the risk,” Jackie further explained.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has been transporting infants since the 1980s. The NICU transport team consists of a neonatologist, neonatal nurses and respiratory therapists specially trained in advanced airway management and stabilization of critically ill and premature neonates. The NICU Transport Program provides services for up to 70 babies per year from Stockton and surrounding communities such as Lodi, Tracy and Manteca.

Celebrating Health
The NICU hosts a Preemie Grad Party annually during which families are invited back for an afternoon of celebration as doctors, nurses and families are reunited. “Our first preemies are adults now and we have some patients that have gone on to nursing school,” shared Jackie. “Watching these babies grow and thrive is a blessing for us,” she said proudly.

In the 1980s, the need for a NICU was evident. Premature babies and babies born with health challenges were being transported out of the area. Often times, family members were left behind due to the logistics or financial challenges that made it difficult for families to travel to hospitals outside of our county. The expansion has given San Joaquin County the ability to grow and develop the NICU, meeting a definite need. 

“Our team is a special group of people who are compassionate, protective and dedicated to improving the health of babies in our county,” commented Jackie. “There is nothing better than serving a neonate and family during their time of need. It is an honor to serve our community.”

For more information on San Joaquin General Hospital, the expansion and the NICU, please visit sanjoaquingeneral.org/neonatal-intensive-care.