New Ambulance Designed to Move Tiny Patients

March 07, 2013

How do you move a premature baby so fragile that even the hospital where she was born can’t provide a high enough level of care for her?

To help make those kinds of moves easier, University Health System has invested in a new ambulance designed for babies who need the care of a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Last year, 117 babies were transferred by University Hospital’s Level III NICU, most of them from community hospitals because they were born prematurely or for complex medical problems. About 70 babies made at least part of the trip by ambulance.

The new $135,000 ambulance has a cab that’s wider, to accommodate a transport incubator; and taller, so that University Hospital’s three-person NICU transport team can stand to take care of the baby en route. Most importantly, it carries two large tanks needed to provide the correct mix of oxygen and air to premature babies on long trips.

“The difference between adults and babies is that high oxygen concentrations can damage a baby’s eyes and lungs,” said Debbie Rejba, University Hospital’s NICU transport coordinator. “We blend our oxygen with air. Most ambulances in the general community have all the oxygen you want, but they don’t have air on them.”

Each of University Hospital’s two transport teams includes a nurse, a respiratory therapist and a neonatal nurse practitioner or physician, depending on how sick the baby is. Both teams are available around the clock, and travel by AirLife helicopter, fixed wing airplane and ambulance to hospitals as far away as Laredo and Del Rio.

The NICU ambulance will be capable of trips up to 100 miles from the hospital, said Jerry Collazo, director of fleet services for University Health System. When not in use for babies, the ambulance can be adapted for adult patients.

The vehicle brings to five the number of ambulances operated by the University Health System. The ambulance fleet is staffed by trained paramedics and emergency medical technicians. Last year, the ambulances responded to more than 5,000 calls to move patients between University Health System’s network of clinics and the hospital, and are capable of handling almost any emergency.

“The NICU transport team will work with the babies, and our paramedics will serve as the extra hands when needed,” said Collazo, who added the ambulance crews were receiving additional training in NICU care.

The purpose of the new ambulance will be apparent, with the words “NICU transport” in big, colorful letters, and images of young patients on the side.

To contact University Health System’s Neonatal Transport Team, call 800-616-6122.