Scripps La Jolla NICU

Sept. 5, 2019 – The satellite locations I have visited so far all seem to embrace a theme based on their geographic location, and the Scripps La Jolla neonatal intensive care unit team was no exception. Just a couple of miles from the beach, this team was all about the sun and the surf. I received a lei and a boogie board (signed by every member of the unit) when I walked into the conference room!

Surf’s up with the NICU team

The beach vibe continued with the team’s stamp and a large poster they had created that said, “Rady Scripps La Jolla NICU — Catch the Wave.”  The poster was especially creative because it had 78 small, personalized surfboards attached with each employee’s name and years of service, ranging from less than one to 39 years. Working in the NICU does not always carry a laidback beach vibe, however. As NICU Supervisor Janet Wirt described it, “sometimes there are calm waters and sometimes there are riptides.”

Almost three years ago, the NICU expanded from 1,800 square feet to 6,000 square feet, with 12 private rooms. It is now licensed for 14 beds, but can expand up to 23 beds when necessary. New moms and families also have the option to stay in boarder rooms, which are kind of like an internal Ronald McDonald house.  There were only 10 newborns in residence today, but, in keeping with Janet’s analogy, you never know when a big wave might hit. In fact, to ensure they will be equipped to care for our community’s infants well into the future, the unit will soon be on the move again. Scripps has plans to build a new seven-story patient tower, which is scheduled to open in 2024 with an even bigger NICU.

With Janet Wirt and my latest passport stamp

Before dining on breakfast sandwiches, fruit and, of course, coffee, I had the opportunity to see some of the posters the team had put together on a range of topics. Most impressive was the “Growing Our Performance” poster, which illustrated the team’s commitment to safety and quality of care. In fiscal year 2016, the NICU had overall quality of care scores at the 97th percentile, and they continue to perform near the top of all Rady Children’s units. The nurses on the unit are committed to improvement as well. For example, in 2015, they increased the ranks of certified RNs from 36 percent to 50 percent. The team also has a project in place that focuses on reducing the number of peripheral IV infiltrations — IV fluids or medication leaking into the surrounding tissue — in neonates.

Team members created more interesting posters on topics including the following:

  • Traditions of the many diverse cultures and religions represented in the Scripps La Jolla NICU’s patient population, along with tips on how to be sensitive to their birth traditions and customs. For example, Buddhist or Hindi religions may chant to the newborn or shave the baby’s head.
  • The do’s and don’ts of neuroprotection (such as therapeutic positioning of newborns).
  • Common breastfeeding and pumping questions.
  • Post-frenotomy care.
  • Caring for extremely low birthweight infants.
  • Disaster preparation.

Learning about different cultural traditions

It was so interesting speaking with this group that I didn’t even have time to visit the NICU in person! If you’d like to see it, though, check out the GoPro video Rady Children’s President Emeritus Dr. Donald Kearns put together when the NICU expanded to its new space: https://vimeo.com/209245817.

Ready for the surf with my signed boogie board

With boogie board and passport in hand, I headed back to main campus knowing that this team works so well together because they are like a family, and that makes all the difference to the families they serve. Hope to catch a wave at the Scripps La Jolla NICU again soon!