Tuesday afternoon, the neonatal ambulance pulled up at Wesley Medical Center. The back doors swung open and a power lift lowered the cot, carrying a tiny baby in an incubator, to the ground.
Within minutes, the baby was wheeled inside the hospital.
Just last month, William McCoy rode that same ambulance when he broke out in a fever at less than a week old.
William’s birth had complications, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and stomach, and doctors at Salina Regional Health Center were concerned about a heart problem, said Jacob McCoy, William’s father.
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Jacob and Katie McCoy decided their son should go to Wesley Medical Center, the closest place with a Level III neonatal intensive care unit. Level III means the neonatal center can provide subspeciality care for critically ill infants, in addition to basic and specialty care.
The neonatal ambulance came to Salina, then rushed William back to the hospital.
“That was very reassuring knowing it wasn’t just a standard ambulance being retrofitted for baby care,” Jacob McCoy said. “(Now) he’s a happy, healthy, growing baby.”
The McCoys didn’t know it at the time, but the ambulance that took their baby to Wesley was new to the LifeWatch neonatal transport team’s fleet, the first new ambulance to LifeWatch in nearly a decade. The team has always had three neonatal ambulances, and will now retire one of the older ones.
It took eight months to outfit to Wesley’s specifications, but the new $540,000 ambulance just for infants began transporting patients last month.
Not only is the neonatal ambulance new, but it also has unique features. It is equipped to carry twins, something that could only happen in other ambulances with creative configuring.
Instead of only loading a patient from the back, a second patient can be loaded from the side.
“Because it was made just for us, we were able to say where we wanted the storage cabinets, where we wanted the chairs for the crew, where we wanted supplies,” said Paula Delmore, manager of the neonatology department. “It worked out really, really great.”
The cart that holds the isolette – the incubator for premature or other newborn infants – also locks into the floor, keeping it secure around turns.
McCoy said he didn’t see the ambulance when they came to take his son – he was “scared through the entire process” – but that the transport team assured him it would be alright. Everything with the ambulance went smoothly, he said, with the team having access to everything a baby would need.
Another new feature is a power lift that bears the weight of the isolette and attached equipment. Traditionally, the transportation team has to heft the cot into the ambulance and secure it.
“It is extremely nice for us to have new equipment,” said security officer Grant Greenwood, who drove the ambulance Tuesday. “With lifts in the back, it’s easier for us to get things loaded up. It’s easier on the crew all around.”
Wesley Medical Center, which maintains a Level III NICU with specialty care nurseries and advanced newborn care, serves as a regional referral center for central, southeast and western Kansas.
More than 1,200 babies are admitted to Wesley’s NICU each year. About 200 of those are transported from smaller or rural hospitals in Kansas and surrounding states.
Wesley has had a dedicated neonatal transport team since the 1970s.
“The thing that increases survival is that babies that are born somewhere else are transferred to a center that can take really great care of them,” Delmore said. “We can get to these outlying hospitals very quickly if we need to.”