Wesley Healthcare
August 22, 2017

WICHITA – Babies born prematurely or critically ill after birth often need specialized care from a high-level neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Wesley Medical Center serves as that beacon of hope and expertise for most areas of Kansas. 

That’s why Wesley’s NICU staff and its LifeWatch neonatal transport team were excited to receive a brand new $540,000 ambulance this month – the first in nearly a decade – adding a boost to its ground fleet of three ambulances.

“We are thrilled beyond measure,” said Paula Delmore, manager of the Neonatology department. “I’m most happy for the staff and the patients, who often have to ride in the ambulance for very long hours.”

Roughly 200 infants are transported to Wesley’s NICU every year from smaller or rural hospitals around Kansas and surrounding states. A NICU provides specialized infant care that is critical to sustaining and nurturing newborns. Infants who have complications due to premature birth, infection or other health challenges are admitted to the unit. Infants receive care from neonatologists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and neonatal respiratory therapists along with pediatric subspecialists.

The ambulance features state-of-the-art lifesaving equipment, including a power lift that bears the weight of an isolette and attached equipment, which can weigh as much as 450 pounds. Traditionally, the transportation team is tasked with hefting the cot into the ambulance and securing it.

Wesley Medical Center has had a dedicated neonatal transport team since the 1970s. The program is dedicated to R.A. “Jiggs” Nelson, MD, who is credited with spearheading the first transport of sick babies by a Wesley ambulance named “Betty 1” in 1974. In 1975, he helped establish the first neonatal flights. The transport service was renamed “LifeWatch” in 1979.

Wesley has always been on the cutting edge of providing high-level care to sick infants. In 1976, the Committee on Perinatal Health, sponsored by the March of Dimes, proposed a system for regionalized perinatal care and defined three levels of hospital care, which served throughout the 1970s and 1980s as a national model for the rapid development of neonatal referral centers, according to Bryan Ohning, MD, PhD, in Medscape (January 2015). This model required the development of a neonatal transport system, which was associated with a significant reduction in the U.S. neonatal mortality rate, he wrote.

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. The transport team for each patient includes a neonatal nurse practitioner or physician assistant, respiratory therapist and a security officer who drives.

“That is probably one of my favorite parts of the job,” said security officer Larry Matthews, who regularly drives the transport ambulances. “I feel like I’m doing my part helping people. I try to be safe and make sure that baby gets to where it needs to go to get well.”

Wesley’s NICU averages more than 1,200 admissions per year and provides the highest level of neonatal care in south central Kansas.