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Neonatal intensive care unit to open at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital soon

USC Verdugo Hills Hospital is gearing up to open its new neonatal intensive-care unit later this month so moms who give birth at the hospital won't have to have their premature newborns transported to another hospital.

The 3,100-square-foot facility is part of a larger $2.5-million renovation of what was previously the hospital's eighth-floor critical care unit, which has been consolidated into another part of the hospital.

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The new unit has six private rooms.

Verdugo Hills is one of three hospitals in L.A. County that has private rooms, said Melissa Stehlin, director of women and families services at the hospital, on Wednesday during a tour of the new facility.

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"Most often, it's all in one big area ... That's a luxury for us," she said.

Private rooms let parents participate in their newborn's care, she added.

In addition, each room also has a sleeping area. When a newborn is ready to be discharged, parents can come in and spend the night with their child.

The staff is available for the night, but the parents are basically on their own to care for their newborn.

"So, they can feel more comfortable when they go home and take care of their baby," Stehlin said.

The new unit is a level 2 facility, which means it can care for newborns who are more than 32 weeks of gestational age and weigh over 1,500 grams.

If a baby is in the unit, but doctors determine it needs an additional level of care, the hospital has transfer agreements with other area hospitals, including Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Stehlin said.

There is also a video system so that if a mom goes home before her newborn, she and family members all around the world can see the baby on a video feed using an individual code.

Stehlin said sometimes mothers who are away from their newborns can have problems producing enough breast milk. The video system can help address that issue.

"It helps them produce more," she said.

Dr. Robert Gall, a neonatologist with the hospital, explained the unit's primary purpose.

"We bring the baby here. We stabilize, using all of the equipment that you see, and that means being able to establish the ABCs of life. Airway, breathing, circulation," he said.

There are three goals that babies need to reach to be discharged, Gall said. They need to maintain their temperature in an open crib; they have to be able to take in nutrition whether it's formula or mother's milk; and they have to have control of their breathing.

The new unit was expected to open last year, but it was delayed.

"There are a lot of hospitals doing construction on a lot of different things, and so they have a finite amount of resources to be able to allocate and come out to check on progress, give updates on things that they would like changed, and so forth, so I think that's more just the nature of the business," said Keith Hobbs, the hospital's chief executive, whose three children were all born at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

But it's not just Verdugo Hills that has been dealing with delays. Hobbs said he recently attended a meeting of hospital officials, and one of the topics discussed was construction issues.

"I think the only condolence is the fact that other hospitals are having the same problem," Hobbs said.

Stehlin said officials from the California Department of Public Health are scheduled to come to Verdugo Hills Hospital this month to do an evaluation as the new unit moves toward being licensed.

"They'll just verify we're within the standard of care across the board," Stehlin said.

Twitter: @lamarkkellam

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