By Leon Worden/SCVNEWS.com
The days of peering through glass at a room full of newborn babies are over – at least in Valencia.
Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit moved off of the decades-old wish list and into reality Wednesday when dozens of doctors, nurses, patrons and politicians participated in a festive ribbon-cutting ceremony.
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Named for a Santa Clarita couple who contributed $1.5 million toward the unit’s $6 million cost, the 11-bed Kim and Steven Ullman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will open for business as soon as the final state approvals are in hand, probably in late February.
“This is a very proud moment in your community hospital’s life as we answer some dreams of this valley for many, many years,” hospital CEO Roger Seaver told the throng of well-wishers. “It’s particularly exciting and rewarding when we can advance our footprint in the Santa Clarita Valley to needs that have not yet been fulfilled here.”
Mayor Laurie Ender suggested the hospital adapt The Newhall Land and Farming Co.’s old marketing slogan to say, “Built As Promised by Henry Mayo.”
“When we talk about the quality of life in Santa Clarita and what we can do to make it better, this is what we’re talking about,” Ender said.
Formal planning for the 4,369-square-foot unit started in 2007, said John Schleif, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
“Now it’s 2012,” he said. “It takes that long to deliver a service and a facility like this.”
Schleif said the unit is unusual in that every room is private or semi-private.
“Most places still have large, open units,” he said, “but this gives as a lot of quiet and peace and beautiful lighting for (the community’s) smallest citizens.”
The unit is outfitted with 22 pieces of high-tech equipment specifically designed for newborn care. Twenty-five nurses and neonatal respiratory therapists, along with several coordinators, will be dedicated to the unit for 24/7 staffing.
“There are a lot of nurses who live up here who are now going to be coming here to work instead of going elsewhere,” said neonatologist Dr. Laurence Shaw.
“Having the NICU in our community (allows us to) keep families together,” said Sally McGann, who oversees women’s services and now, the NICU. “They no longer have to go out of this valley.”
Travel was a stressor for the Ullman family when Kim and Steven’s newborn granddaughter developed complications.
“Our granddaughter was born here at Henry Mayo and had a tough time of it,” Steven Ullman said. “Immediately they had to transport her down to Valley Presbyterian because she needed to be in an NICU. That was, needless to say, a tough time. It was tough on our daughter-in-law, it was tough on our son, it was tough for the entire family.”
“Kim and I have lived in this valley 33 years,” he said. “We have always taken this hospital for granted. We’ve driven by it 100 times, we’ve brought our kids down here to have their heads sewn up – probably 100 times – and that was pretty much it.”
The travails with his granddaughter and some discussions with hospital foundation members opened his eyes – and ultimately his wallet.
“The pleasure that we have received by getting involved is to meet these wonderful people who live and breathe this hospital,” he said. “They are so dedicated. The community is fortunate to have this hospital.”
Seaver said philanthropy remains critical “in spite of all of the attempts to find ways to finance health care delivery.”
“Realistically, the way health care delivery works,” he said, “the real special units, the needs that are unique to a community, the serviced that add a little extra touch, just don’t happen without philanthropy.”
Seaver noted that Henry Mayo’s employees donated more than $240,000 to the development of the NICU, and that the hospital auxiliary and Holiday Home Tour committees earmarked all recent contributions to the unit.
About half the cost of the unit has been covered philanthropically; the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation is working to raise the remaining $3 million and is offering “naming rights” to individual rooms and even the various pieces of equipment.
“I urge you to get involved in any level that you can to support this hospital,” Steven Ullman said. “It’s our hospital. It’s your hospital. If we give these people (hospital staff) the tools to do their job, there is no better hospital. They just need the tools. They’ve got the people. And I witnessed that first-hand.”