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‘Baby Cams’ Link Parents, Newborns in Intensive Care

SANTA ROSA — There’s nothing worse for new parents than to have to leave the hospital empty-handed because their baby needs to stay behind in the intensive care nursery.

“It’s not what parents expect, and it can be both scary and isolating,” said Kathleen Powers, interim ICN nurse manager, who collaborated with neonatologist George Franco and others to develop a way to bridge the distance between a hospitalized newborn and the family. The regional Intensive Care Nursery at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is using “baby cams” and laptops to help ease the separation and promote bonding.  

Memorial is the first St. Joseph Health System hospital and the first in the Bay Area to help family members stay connected with their babies via free Skype video calls.

“Our original plan was to do this through some kind of website. But in the last couple of years Skype has come into such popular use that it seemed natural, and it’s two-way,” said Franco, who championed the system and is one of two UCSF-affiliated neonatologists on Memorial’s ICN medical staff. “It’s the way I keep in touch with my grandson, and I figured everybody else would like to do the same thing.”

The Skype service went live at Memorial on Nov. 3, and Santa Rosa mother Yolanda McCann was the first ICN parent to use it. She dialed up a college friend in Massachusetts, cradling her three-pound son, Xavier, in her arms as she and her friend chatted and admired each other’s baby boys over computer screens.  

“I was excited because it was actually new for me to use Skype technology. But even more important is that it was comforting because it’s depressing to have your child in an intensive care nursery,” said McCann, who also has six- and two-year old daughters at home. “I got to do what new moms usually do when they can take their baby home — show him off to family and friends.” 

Powers said, “It gave me goose bumps to see that connection and that excitement. A new baby in the world is such an exciting event, and you want to share it with the world. It was also reassuring to Yolanda’s friend that the baby was going to be OK.”

Remote Parents Are Main Focus

According to Franco, Memorial has two types of constituents for the service: parents like McCann, who live close to the hospital and want to show off their newborn to grandparents or other out-of-town relatives, and parents who live far away and have a hard time going back and forth. The second group — parents who live far from the hospital — is the main motivator for creating the system, hospital officials said.

Nick Hendricks and Leezette Lyon gave birth to three-and-a-half-pound twin boys on Nov. 18, six weeks early. The couple live in Kelseyville, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Santa Rosa. The Skype system has made a major difference in lessening their anxiety over their sons, Kayden and Xavier.

“We felt very empty when our babies were airlifted to Santa Rosa right after they were born. It didn’t seem real,” Hendricks said. “But when they came up on Skype, we were hootin’ and hollerin’, and it made us feel part of things to at least see our babies on the screen.”

Setting Up the System

The “baby cam” system was created to be as simple and user-friendly as possible for parents, but is also convenient for the medical staff. “If parents want to use the service, they need to contact the ICN nurse and schedule a time with that nurse so the nurse is in control of the viewing time,” said Terri Oliver, project manager. The virtual visit usually lasts about 15 minutes. 

Small cameras mounted on portable computers transmit a secure, live video from the baby’s bedside at the ICN. Families need a computer with Internet access to participate. Users don’t need expensive computer equipment or special monitors to take advantage of the service. Parents may give permission for grandparents and others who are close to the newborn, to connect over the video link. Once the patient is discharged, the Skype password is changed.   

Powers said Memorial also had compliance issues to work through, including HIPAA requirements and patient privacy. The biggest concern, according to Powers, was that because the images would be on the parents’ home computer they could wind up on a social media site like Facebook.

“The system has audio, and we don’t want discussions between doctor and parent over the baby’s health winding up on a social media site. Part of the consent form that parents sign stipulates that they agree not to use the live video streaming on such a site,” said Powers.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s new ICN video calling service will serve as a pilot for other applications throughout the St. Joseph Health System, which operates hospitals in California, Texas and New Mexico. Franco said there’s potential for use by a broad range of patients. 

“As we get more users on and get feedback from the families, we will make modifications if necessary,” Oliver said.

As for Yolanda McCann’s little Xavier, he’s now home and thriving. She said that thanks to Skype she can look back on her baby’s time in the ICN as a positive experience, one that “makes having my first-born son even more special.”

Nick Hendricks said his twins are doing well and he expects them to be home by Christmas. “What a present that will be,” he added.

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