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New NICU at Intermountain American Fork Hospital opens

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Intermountain American Fork Hospital just completed a new newborn intensive care unit (NICU) which will help twice as many of the youngest babies even earlier in life.

“As northern Utah County has grown, there has been greater need in community for NICU services,” said Dr. Shaun Odell, an Intermountain Medical Group doctor and Medical Director of the American Fork Hospital NICU. “As a Level 2 NICU, we had ten beds to serve babies as young as 34 weeks gestation. It was a sort of open floor environment, and while it served us well for several years, we felt we owed our community more.” 

Thanks to generous donors, the new NICU has 20 individual rooms and can help babies as young as 32 weeks, or two months premature. “That is probably less than one percent of the couple of thousand babies we see born in our hospital every year,” said Dr. Odell. “But other newborns spend time in the NICU as well, sometimes just over night, so we are kept quite busy.”

American Fork Hospital has between 2,500 and 3,000 births each year, and that number keeps growing. In the last several years, the NICU has admitted on average 300 newborns each year.

Dr. Odell explained that when a baby was going to be born too young or needed care beyond what they could provide, a tough decision had to be made to send mother and newborn to Utah Valley Hospital or even Primary Children’s in Salt Lake. “Study after study shows it is better to keep patients – including newborns – close to home. The support group is there, as well as limiting the risk and cost of transferring a patient.”

The new space occupies an area of the hospital that was empty after another pediatric department was consolidated to Utah Valley Hospital in preparation to join Primary Children’s Hospital in Lehi. “We were able to completely remodel the area to meet our needs,” said Dr. Odell.

Now, the 20 NICU beds are all in private rooms, which allow for “rooming in” for parents to stay with their little ones. The doctors and other caregivers have specialized training on how to help these little ones and can provide care round the clock. 

“We even have three rooms for multiple birth siblings,” said Dr. Odell. “We really did try and evaluate what was needed for our growing community. And as the community grows, we will add more services to continue to meet those needs.”

American Fork Hospital NICU manager, Angela Birrell, is excited about the new space. “Every room now has big windows and this light, bright, hope-filled space creates a wonderful environment,” said Birrell. “The natural light also helps the babies normalize their sleep rhythms.”

Birrell added that the preparation and training of her team and others across the hospital has made this all come together, “The planning, education and training will benefit our local families and that’s exciting for our caregivers – we appreciate the opportunity to keep these babies close to home.”

Liz Hartman, a mom with son Ryder in the NICU, said “With us being in the new NICU for just over 24 hours now, it feels like a home away from home. Ryder has his own space and my husband and I can be in the room together with Ryder. This was a hard part before we moved because I wanted to be there to support Ryder as much as I could and I wish I could have my husband there to support Ryder as well as me, during this time. This was not an option due to smaller space and being mindful of other families with babies in the NICU.” 

“What a celebration it is that we can now be there to learn and be a part of Ryder’s growth and journey in the NICU together,” said Hartman.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held last week, and babies began being transferred to the new unit on Monday, October 25.

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