St. Vincent provides 24/7 webcam access to NICU babies’ loved ones

NICVIEW cameras are installed in each space available for NICU babies at St. Vincent Women's Hospital. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A local hospital is connecting NICU babies with loved ones around the world.

St. Vincent is the only level 4 NICU hospital in the state with a 24/7 webcam streaming service for families with an infant in the intensive care unit.

Currently, there are just under 100 babies in St. Vincent’s NICU. It’s the largest level 4 NICU in the state, so many babies are often far from home when receiving their care and that means separation from parents, siblings, and other loved ones. But the staff at St. Vincent say the cameras can dwarf the distance for these families during one of the most difficult times in their lives.

Isaac Potts has been in the NICU since he was born in April. His family racked up nearly 800 views on his webcam in the month of July. (WISH Photo)

“We live an hour away, so it’s definitely hard to be here all the time,” Katie Potts said.  Her son Isaac has spent all 106 days in intensive care, many at St. Vincent Women’s Hospital.

“As a mom you want to be able to do the normal, typical things that a mother does, but unfortunately when you live an hour away, you have to trust somebody else to do everything for you,” Potts said.

On top of the distance, Potts recently returned to work, limiting the amount of time she could spend at Isaac’s bedside.

“It’s very convenient to logon anytime and I definitely do login all the time,” she said.

Potts and other families members logged on about 800 times in the month of July to see Isaac. Isaac has an uncle deployed with the military and family in Texas and California as well. In total, the hospital averages about 22,000 views per month through the NICVIEW streaming webcams.

“If they can get on the Internet, they can login. They don’t have to have an app for it, so it’s very user-friendly,” Tawana Blackwell, registered nurse and manager in the St. Vincent NICU, said.

Blackwell is not only a nurse, but she was also a NICU mom in the past. That’s why she said she’s passionate about helping parents bond with their babies despite the distance.

“We’d try to do Skype things to get them connected and the quality wasn’t what we wanted for them,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said the NICVIEW camera quality is top notch and doesn’t add any burden to the nursing staff. Just last month, St. Vincent recorded logins at all hours of the day from across the U.S. as well as Australia, Austria, Pakistan, Romania and Ireland. The hospital can track logins to watch for any unusual activity, but otherwise Blackwell says the system is secure. No audio is available through the cameras and no personal or health information is shown in view.

“I’ve had some families who say we just have one screen, one TV logged on and we can ask up and it runs all the time so they can go through the house and check on their brother or sister anytime they want and that’s a great thing to offer,” Blackwell said.

The system is connecting families all over the world and providing some peace of mind to moms like Potts, for when 35 miles feels like a world away.

“It’s nice to have the cameras to be able to check in and see at least I can get the dishes done, because he’s sleeping right now. I mean it’s just very comforting to have them,” Potts said.

Blackwell said she’s found it’s been very beneficial for breast-feeding mothers who have babies in the intensive care unit. Those women will login to their baby’s camera while pumping and feel that it does increase breast milk production.

Blackwell hopes to see every hospital providing NICU care install the cameras eventually.

Franciscan Health also has constantly streaming webcams in its 24 level 3 NICU rooms.

The Cleveland Clinic just recently began offering the service. A private donation paid for the installation of 17 NicView cameras at the clinic’s main campus and additional units at the clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital. More NicView units will be installed at the clinic’s Fairview Hospital in the fall. When the program is complete, the clinic will have nearly 90 NicView cameras in its NICUs.

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