Parents stay close to babies at St. David’s NICU with new web cameras

It started when Hurricane Harvey came to Texas. Infants in neonatal intensive care units across the state had to be evacuated to other hospitals, including 11 that ended up in Austin.

Not all family members could travel with the babies. Parents and grandparents and their babies were separated by the water that surrounded the Texas coast.

Austin’s St. David’s Medical Center was already planning to install Nicview web cameras in all of its neonatal beds last fall. The cameras would allow families to stay connected to their babies when they can’t be with them. When the hurricane happened, St. David’s sped up the installation and implementation process, says Rhonda Reed, NICU director.

“We are always looking for ways to be more family-centered, for anything we can do to be more family-supportive,” she says.

The hospital started with cameras at 21 beds but will be expanding to all 65 beds this year. The program will have St. David’s spending about $148,000 for the equipment, training and installation.

In addition to those impacted by the hurricane, other families have benefited. Families with members in the military or who are spread around the country also have found a connection with their babies through the webcams.

Before the cameras are activated on a bed, the baby’s primary family member is given some training. “This is not the first conversation to have on admission,” Reed says. Often cameras won’t be used until a baby is stable.

“If the baby is really critical, we’re not going to have the camera on,” Reed says. St. David’s wants the cameras to be a comfort to families, not cause extra worry.

If it seems like the camera is causing to the family to have more anxiety, then the cameras are not a good fit for that family, Reed says.

When the hospital feels like it’s a good fit for both baby and the family, the parents are given a unique username so they can decide who gets to view the camera. The hospital staff also explains that the camera will be in privacy mode when nurses and doctors are doing medical procedures. The screen will say, “We are busy taking care of your baby. We’ll be back soon.”

St. David’s consulted with Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas about how it uses cameras in its NICU before turning the cameras on.

Kate Ward, whose son Ethan was born at 34 weeks in early December by gestational carrier, rushed to Austin from her home in Houston. With a 3-year-old and husband at home, there have been times when she has had to go back to Houston. With the cameras, she can still see Ethan from anywhere.

“I still have mom guilt for not being two places at one time,” she says, but when she is with her son Owen in Houston, she can see Ethan in Austin. Owen also can see what his little brother is doing by watching the webcam.

“It’s more than just helpful for us,” she says. Her grandmother, who is in a nursing home, can see her great-grandson. “She’s on it all day, every day,” Ward says.

Ward also uses it when she needs to pump breast milk to build that connection between her and her baby. “It’s an amazing tool for anyone in this unique situation,” she says. “When you can’t be with your newborn, it’s not an easy feeling. It gives a little comfort.”

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