Nevada has made progress in lowering the preterm birth rate, but some 2,400 infants are born prematurely and admitted to neonatal intensive care units annually in the Las Vegas Valley.
Such preemies are more prone to short-term health problems in their first weeks of life and long-term complications as they develop into adulthood.
Dr. Farooq Abdulla, a neonatologist with the Foundation for Positively Kids, wants to provide ongoing evaluation to those infants during the first three years of their lives. The goal is to ensure the children develop to their fullest potential.
“This will improve the quality of care for these babies, and it will save costs,” Abdulla said. “We’re starting from scratch, but we are going to be providing data that are not available in the state of Nevada.”
The program would review the condition of infants discharged from the neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs. Those same children later would be assessed as they grow to track their developmental and psychosocial needs. Abdulla will be seeking the cooperation of neonatologists, pediatricians, lactation specialists, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists and other professionals involved in the health care of babies discharged from NICUs.
Neonatologists are pediatricians specialized in managing premature infants and full-term newborns with respiratory disease, infections or birth defects.
Abdulla knows his proposal is an ambitious, herculean task, but he said the benefits outweigh the effort. The program eventually could provide support and education to family members by identifying growth and behavioral problems and ways to address them, he said.
One of the major hurdles will be establishing a computer tracking system to maintain the data on infants discharged from neonatal intensive care units to evaluate their long-term outcomes, Abdulla said.
March of Dimes officials say 12.6 percent of all deliveries in 2013 were born prematurely and admitted to NICUs in Nevada. That falls short of the organization’s goal of a 9.6 percent premature birth rate in the U.S., but Nevada’s grade has improved to a C in the group’s Premature Birth Report Card. The national preterm birth rate in 2013 fell to 11.4 percent.
Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks, and babies born after 37 weeks are considered full term.
In the weeks immediately after birth, premature babies often have difficulty breathing and digesting food. Some premature infants later in life also encounter challenges such as impaired vision, hearing and cognitive skills and social and behavioral problems.
All hospitals that offer childbirth services have neonatal intensive care units.
Centennial Hills Hospital’s NICU recently achieved a level III designation, adding nine level III beds and increasing its capacity to 15 beds overall. The designation allows Centennial to care for infants who arrive as early as 23 weeks or are critically ill.
The NICU at Sunrise Children’s Hospital offers services consistent with a level IV designation, meaning the facility offers surgical repair of serious congenital heart anomalies that require cardiopulmonary bypass among other treatments.
Abdulla’s proposal has been endorsed by the Clark County Medical Society. Dr. Francis Banfro, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at University Medical Center, called Abdulla’s plan to establish a tracking program a great idea.
“There will have to be some communication with parents and their doctors to enlist their support,” Banfro said.
Abdulla sees parents and their infants in the recently opened Positively Kids Clinic for neopediatric patients at 2480 Tompkins Road in Las Vegas. The clinic’s grand opening was Thursday.
While other programs track the progress of neonates born very prematurely, Abdulla has wanted for years to have a program covering all premature births.
“Parental involvement is the key,” Abdulla said. “I’ve seen throughout my career how the level of parental involvement relates directly to the quality of outcomes.”
Contact Steven Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4563.