Children’s Hospital unveils ICU on wheels


Spectrum Health is one of three local health systems enacting visitor restrictions. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Officials at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital unveiled a new high-tech ambulance Thursday — virtually a fully equipped mobile neonatal intensive care unit — that Spectrum Health System has purchased to begin transporting in February critically ill or injured infants and children.

The 2013 International Dura Star vehicle has a four-door truck cab in front of what the hospital PR staff calls a “fully functioning intensive care unit allowing for critical care and procedures to be performed outside of the hospital setting.”

A hospital spokesperson, Melissa Kamara Liggins, could not provide the cost of the vehicle although she stated that “typical manufacturing costs for this type of vehicle” are between $200,000 and $350,000. It was built by Life Line Emergency Vehicles in Sumner, Iowa.

Shari Schwanzl, vice president of nursing services at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said the hospital owns the critical care transport vehicle but it will be operated by Life EMS employees. DeVos Children’s Hospital staff will provide the critical patient care on board.

The new vehicle will replace a critical care transport vehicle currently in use. It will be parked at the Children’s Hospital when not on the road.

“Life EMS Ambulance has been operating the NICU ambulance for Spectrum Health Butterworth for nearly 30 years,” said Mark Meijer, president of Life EMS Ambulance. “This is a highly custom and mission-specific designed replacement ambulance in which we are continuing our operational partnership with Spectrum Health Butterworth NICU.”

The new vehicle carries supplies, equipment and space enough to care for two infants at the same time, according to Liggins. Sound insulation will reduce external road sounds to allow the staff to listen to a baby’s breathing and heart sounds more effectively.

“In purchasing a new vehicle, we had the opportunity to design a mobile NICU that was consistent with our patient care systems, to include added features for patient safety and features for staff safety, as well, and to essentially have the best in transport care available to Michigan children. Our team took exceptional care in the details, making certain that every item had a place for secure storage and that the vehicle was equipped to operate as a fully functional NICU. A particularly important new feature from the patient and family’s perspective is space for a family member to accompany the child in transit,” said Schwanzl.

When asked what led to the decision to invest in the critical care transport ambulance, Schwanzl replied, “exceptional patient care.”

“We continually work to improve upon our track record for providing exceptional care to our patients,” added Schwanzl. “We recognize that care can begin long before a patient is within our facility. With over 250 neonatal critical care transports each year, we are ensuring that the equipment needed to provide that vital care at a critical time is available to the patient even before they reach our hospital doors.”

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