Special Care Nursery, with couplet care features among first in state, set to open at St. Luke’s

Goodnight Moon Room at St. Luke's Special Care Nursery in New Bedford

“This is a very big day for some of our very little patients," President & CEO Dr. Ray Kruger said. "And it marks a major step forward in the already exceptional care that Southcoast’s dedicated nurses, physicians, and staff provide with skill and compassion.”

A 6,600-square-foot unit that will treat critically ill newborns and their mothers has received approval for use from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and is readying to receive patients at St. Luke’s Hospital, Southcoast Health officials announced this week.

The new unit includes fully integrated couplet accommodations designed and constructed to coordinate acute care for both infant and mother, among the first such models in the Commonwealth.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony for clinical and operational staff, along with key community supporters, attendees toured the new Special Care Nursery. An addition to the recently renovated Stoico/FIRSTFED Women and Children’s Pavilion at St. Luke’s, it includes eight private bassinet rooms, featuring couplet care quarters, equipped with airborne isolation capability in cases of transmissible viruses.

In addition, multiple prep, stabilization/triage, visitor, and education spaces have been built out to create a unified and intuitive facility, making the patient journey even safer and more comprehensive.

With a new state-of-the-art infant security system installed, as well as central monitoring enabling staff to continuously track patient vital signs from three different nursing stations, Southcoast Health President & CEO Dr. Ray Kruger said the Special Care Nursery will bring immediate benefits to both patients and their care teams.

“After announcing this high-priority project earlier this year, we are proud to open it for our community in the coming weeks,” Kruger said.

“This is a very big day for some of our very little patients, and it marks a major step forward in the already exceptional care that Southcoast’s dedicated nurses, physicians, and staff provide with skill and compassion.”

Neonatologist Dr. Jessica Slusarski is one of those providers, and said that she and the Special Care Nursery team are “incredibly proud of the level of care we are able to bring to babies and families” of southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“The Special Care Nursery is first and foremost a place where newborns receive additional medical care after delivery in preparation for going home. In our nursery, we care for babies with a myriad of conditions, most commonly prematurity, respiratory disease, infection, jaundice, hypoglycemia, heart disease, and neonatal opioid withdrawal,” Slusarski said.

“The goal of couplet care is the provision of uninterrupted care of both mother and baby together from birth to discharge. We will be able to initiate care of eligible infants in the labor room with their mother, then continue the maternal postpartum care here in the Special Care Nursery in the same room as her baby. This is such an exciting advance in care for our patients, and it is very special to be one of the first hospitals in the state offering this option,” she said, adding:

“We know that our patients’ time with us is relatively brief, and transitioning a newborn’s care from hospital to home starts at admission. We work hard to incorporate our parents and families into all aspects of patient care, from encouraging early skin-to-skin and kangaroo care to feeding to diaper changes and bathing. The Special Care Nursery environment is a crucial determinant of parental presence. We want families to feel welcome, comfortable, and empowered during their time here.”

The Special Care Nursery also includes a tribute to longtime nurse Sharon Souza, according to St. Luke’s Women and Children’s Pavilion Executive Director Kim Pina, RN.

“Sharon was an RN in the Level II nursery for 42 years. She’s now a volunteer, and her commitment is an inspiration to us all,” Pina said.

“Sharon goes above and beyond for every patient, and never wants to be recognized for it. She has gifted a book to every baby’s family before they leave the hospital, encouraging parents to read to their children to help with development. I am thrilled to share that our new Special Care Nursery will include ‘Sharon’s Library,’ which will ensure that each family will be gifted a book, represented by the book cover art displayed in each bassinet room. This program, named in honor of Sharon, is made possible with books donated by Jill Fearons’ Friends of Jack Foundation.”

Along with children’s book cover art, the Special Care Nursery spaces will be decorated in renderings of animals at the Buttonwood Park Zoo.

“Every choice we have made in the design and construction of this unit was made with our patients and community in mind,” Southcoast Health Vice President of Support Services Philip Oliveira said.

“So many neighbors, supporters, and partners have come together to make it happen, and I would like to thank everyone who offered up their time and talent. Our special thanks also to Southcoast’s Derek Vieira, Robin Hodkinson, and the entire project team, as well as construction manager Consigli Construction and architects Lavallee Brensinger.”