Department Spotlight: NICU Transport

By: Alana Ridge

March 17, 2023

The NICU Transport team at Renown Health pose for a photo in front of a neonatal life support machine.

Bringing in new life is an exciting and beautiful occasion. The possibilities for the newest members of our world are endless – what will the child grow up to become? What will they achieve in their lifetime? Anyone will agree that a new life is precious and protecting that life by any means possible is a necessity. 

Sometimes, however, a baby’s journey into our world brings along obstacles. Prematurity, congenital defects and other complications can accompany a birth and the baby’s first few moments of life. But what happens when these complications happen outside of a fully-functioning Labor & Delivery unit, or if the complications need a special level of intervention with a health system capable of caring for their unique needs? 

Enter the NICU Transport team at Renown Health. As the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Transport team in northern Nevada, these dedicated nurses, respiratory therapists and neonatal nurse practitioners – who have normal unit duties of their own at Renown Regional Medical Center – step up to the plate to take on this extra duty to support members of their community facing some of the scariest moments of their lives. To them, transporting babies in critical condition and giving them the best chance of life isn’t just a responsibility; it’s a calling. 

The NICU on Wheels 

When the Saint Mary’s maternity unit, which was Renown’s partner in NICU transport duties, made the decision to close, our dedicated NICU nurses and respiratory therapists diligently rose to the occasion to fill the demand. Dubbed the “NICU on Wheels,” Renown’s team went from taking on transport duties every other day to 365 days a year – and they are always ready to go at a moment’s notice, whether it’s by ambulance or by fixed-wing aircraft. 

“When we learned about the closure we knew it was our calling and knew we had to step up,” said Rachel D., Neonatal Transport RN at Renown. “We still have regular days on the floor, and we each switch off being on-call for transport. Once we get a distress call, we have 30 minutes to get to the hospital, grab our gear and go. We have to essentially put a whole room’s worth of portable equipment in one bag.” 

“I really enjoy being a part of the transport team and making a difference from northern Nevada to northern California,” added Sam V., Supervisor of Respiratory Care at Renown. “We are able to practice at the top of our skill level and use autonomy that not every practitioner gets to use.” 

Each NICU Transport unit works in teams of three when heading out into the field: one nurse (our bedside experts), one nurse practitioner (our education experts) and one respiratory therapist (our lung and breathing experts). With several years – and in many cases, decades – of experience in NICU nursing, NICU transport duties and respiratory therapy, this team is poised to provide state-of-the-art lifesaving care en route to the hospital. This diverse array of experiences among the team especially comes in handy as they continue to face the increased transport workload. 

“We are so thankful to have Saint Mary’s employees come over and work on our team after their maternity ward closed,” said Melyssa H., RN, NICU Transport Coordinator at Renown. “Helping the babies, as well as helping the scared families, will always be our top priority.” 

“I love the complexity that babies provide in the NICU,” added Jennifer J., Neonatal Transport RN at Renown. “Providing hands-on care right at the bedside along other members of the team is such a rewarding experience.” 

Education is also a crucial tool in NICU care, especially in the field. The nurse practitioners on this team make it their mission to outreach to the community, including our rural health partners, and help them build the tools and skills they need to care for our smallest and most critical patients. 

“I have been on a few transports where we went out and did not have to bring the baby over to the hospital, and we were able to provide lots of education instead,” said Shiela A., Respiratory Specialist at Renown. “For instance, I was called out to Fallon for a baby that was in respiratory distress. When we arrived, we saw the baby was awake and active although intubated. The tube came out, and we retaped it. While we stayed to observe the baby to make sure everything was okay, the nurse practitioner on the team provided educational tools to the family on what they can improve on regarding their baby’s tubing. Our nurses do such a great job with these teachings.” 

“When I started, I quickly noticed that more education was needed in the field,” added Jennifer J., RN. “Now I see the momentum we’ve had in these communities really take full force. Because of this education, and the confidence we instill in our patients’ families, each baby’s transition to our team has become so much easier. It has been awesome to watch this progress over the years.” 

With immense experience, education and a strong commitment to their community under their wing, the NICU on Wheels is only just getting started. 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work 

Running a successful NICU Transport operation, especially as the sole health system participating, takes a village. With only three professionals out in the field, the team leans on their fellow nurses, physicians, surgeons and specialists to make the operation run as smoothly as possible. 

From REMSA and Care Flight helping load patients in and get them to the hospital safely, to Renown’s Clinical Engineering team who are first on the scene when machines need repairs and troubleshooting, everyone rises to the occasion to achieve the best-possible outcome for our youngest patients at some of the most challenging moments of the beginning of their lives – and they are fully trusted to move those mountains. 

“Being a part of the NICU Transport team has given us the opportunity to facilitate a deeper, meaningful relationship with providers and a patient’s entire care team,” said Rachel D., RN. “They entrust us with our assessment skills, opinions and skill levels. There is an equal layer of trust between us and them.” 

Despite the pressure they feel every day, the NICU Transport team never let it overtake them and instead let it empower them. 

“We are under a lot of pressure and stress regardless of the case, and yet, we all work so well together; the teamwork really is incredible,” said Lisa A., Respiratory Specialist at Renown. “I am very proud of how our team steps up and is very intricate, even down to organization. For example, team members like Shiela arrange all the respiratory bags and make sure they are laid out in a way that makes the procedure as simple as possible to ensure there are no complications.” 

The nurses and respiratory therapists also partner together on the NICU floor and are always ready to provide coverage when their transport colleagues get a call. Committed to collaboration and ready to jump into action, the NICU Transport team works together to elevate each other and the bottom line for each patient. 

“This is a full-time gig, and the group works together to make sure everyone is covered; we are all very collaborative,” said Sarah K., Respiratory Specialist at Renown. “We all think of our patients as extra special, and it’s nice to know that you can make a difference in the baby’s life and the lives of the family. We all have a sense of purpose in giving back to the community.” 

“I am just so thankful to be a part of this team,” added Marcia A., Neonatal Transport RN at Renown. “We really have developed a strong bond.” 

A Track Record of Success 

The life-saving measures that each member of the NICU Transport team take surpass hospital walls. The impact they have on each baby are remembered and celebrated for years, and they often develop lifelong relationships with patients and their families after their stay in the NICU. 

One prime example of this can be found in an impassioned letter from Tess, the mother of a young boy who was in the midst of respiratory distress and needed immediate intervention. Because of the valiant efforts of Renown’s NICU Transport team, her child, Warren, is a healthy and happy baby to this day. She recalls the experience:

Warren had stopped breathing while getting routine blood work. He was resuscitated twice while at an area hospital. We made the decision to transfer him to Renown for him to be admitted into the NICU. Within an hour and a half of this decision, Renown had sent a team consisting of a respiratory therapist, nurse and nurse practitioner to come and get him. As soon as the team entered the room, we immediately felt safe and comforted. The team made sure we knew exactly what was going on and what was going to happen in the following hours, and they let us know they would do everything for Warren. He was resuscitated two more times by the respiratory therapist while getting ready for transport. At that time, the decision was made to intubate for a smoother ride to Renown. We knew you all had his best interest in mind, and of course, we trusted you with everything. The intubation went well, and he was packed up and ready to drive. Today, Warren is hitting all of his developmental milestones and is a normal, happy baby in everyone’s eyes. We can’t thank the NICU Transport team enough for taking such good care of Warren and helping him Fight the Good Fight. 

“This success wasn’t just due to our three-person unit – our manager, Jason, also jumped in and drove all the way to Carson City to stabilize the child,” said Shiela A. “This just goes to show that no matter our title, we are always here to help and make a huge difference in the lives of our patients.” 

Success stories of children like Warren describe the common mission of the NICU Transport team in detail, and while there are more of these stories to come, the team is always ready to make the necessary sacrifices for the greater good of their patients. 

“Sarah K. is like Warren’s guardian angel,” said Tess. “We call her ‘Auntie Sarah’ now. He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her and the entire NICU Transport team. It takes a special kind of person to work in the NICU. I can never repay this team for what they’ve done for Warren and our family.” 

“I am proud of this team, their flexibility and the sacrifices they have made to do transport 365 days a year,” added Melyssa H., RN.” 

The remarkable success of the NICU Transport team serves as proof of the unwavering and tireless commitment of each and every team member, bringing hope to families during their most difficult moments. 

“NICU Transport forces you to be confident in yourself and your abilities and to push yourself a step further,” said Rachel D., RN. “I am a better nurse because I joined the transport team.” 

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