Neonatal transport team celebrates 50th anniversary

September 30, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
The neonatal transport team

September marks the 50th anniversary of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s Brandon NICU neonatal transport team!

The team had humble beginnings — from the back of a doctor’s station wagon to the complex team of health care providers it is today.

Michigan Medicine Headlines sat down with Robin Keeney, a clinical nurse and nurse coordinator for the Mott neonatal transport team, to learn more the team’s work, mission and goals for the future.

Tell us more about the team and give us some examples of your team’s daily work.

Keeney: The neonatal transport team consists of a nurse, a provider (most likely a neonatal nurse practitioner, but sometimes a neonatal fellow) and a respiratory therapist. 

Our job is to go to outlying hospitals around the state and pick up babies who can benefit from the services that C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital can provide. That includes surgical, cardiology and neonatal services. 

While on the transport, our job is to stabilize the baby, keep them stable and ensure a safe return to Mott. We do this by monitoring vital signs, maintaining a patent airway and appropriate respiratory support, provide IV fluids, give medications, etc. Essentially, we’re doing in the back of an ambulance what you find us doing in the unit. Sometimes we arrive at the referring hospital to find that the baby needs to be intubated or maybe an IV needs to be started, and sometimes we are picking up little ones from smaller community hospitals who may not have the equipment that they need to do these things.  

In terms of our daily work, we have at least two Brandon NICU transport nurses on each shift, every day. One of the nurses is the designated transport nurse for that shift and consequently does not have a patient assignment. That is to help expedite their departure from the unit in case of a call. Once I arrive for my shift, I have several pieces of equipment that need to be checked out and I need to confirm that my medical bags are set and ready to go. The respiratory therapist will do the same thing with their equipment and their bags. Once this is complete, we help out our co-workers until a call comes in. After I return from a transport and have handed off my patient, I need to finish my charting, restock my bag and re-check my equipment in case a second call comes in.  

September is the 50th anniversary of the team. What an exciting milestone! How did the team get started?

Keeney: When Mott was built somewhere in the mid-’60’s there was an area set aside for an intensive care nursery. At that time, neonatal care was in its earliest beginnings. 

In the fall of 1971, D. Roloff, M.D., along with others, recognized a need to ideally get pregnant moms to U-M who were in need of support or, if that wasn’t possible, to be able to get their babies to U-M. 

So, the first neonatal transport was done. The team consisted of Roloff and Barb Lanese, R.N. I believe that there was a respiratory therapist on the transport, but I haven’t been able to find a name. They got into Dr. Roloff’s station wagon with some supplies in a paper bag and went the few blocks to St. Joe’s Hospital. This team, and the Holden Perinatal Hospital, were the first hospitals in Michigan to offer neonatal transport.

The back of a station wagon?! Wow. How many team members are there currently? 

Keeney: Currently the Brandon NICU transport team consists of 28 nurses and 25 respiratory therapists.

I personally have been a part of the team for 31 years.

We have several people who would be considered leadership of our incredible team. Stacey Tilbury, N.N.P., and Dan Davenport, N.N.P., are the lead practitioners. Tony Ianetta, R.T., is the lead respiratory therapist.  I’m considered the nurse coordinator.  Sherry Mason, D.N.P., is our administrative liaison, Sandie Cardone, B.S.N., is our education coordinator, and of course Michele Martin, M.S.N., is our manager. Then we have Drs. Robert Schumacher and John Barks.  

What goals or mission does the team have and how many babies do you transport on average each year?

Keeney: I would say that the team’s overall goal is to quickly and safely transport a baby from hospital “A” back to Mott. 

Right now, we are in the midst of working on getting our time “out the door” down. With all of the specialized equipment that we are able to take with us, it can sometimes take a few extra minutes for us to be ready to go.  

Our numbers can vary from year to year, of course, but we usually transport somewhere between 250 and 300 babies. Ideally, we would like to get the mom to us before she delivers, but that doesn’t always happen so that’s where our team comes in.  

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Keeney: My favorite part of the job is knowing that what I do is making a difference to a baby’s and a family’s lives. It’s hard to take a baby away from a family, but when you know that that baby will get the care and treatment that he or she needs to thrive, it makes a huge difference.

50 years of care is no small feat for a relatively small, but mighty team. Does the team have specific goals or aspirations for the next 50 years?

Keeney: One real time goal that we’re currently working on is making our paperwork more electronic. In this age of technology, it only makes sense to work toward that. 

I envision that our care on transport will mimic the care that you would find within a NICU. So, as respiratory support changes and advances, I would expect to see that happen in the transport world. 

We currently don’t do surgery while on transport, we don’t put our patients on ECMO while on transport and our cardiac babies are simply stabilized and brought back to Mott for cardiology care. Perhaps that will change in the future?