Elaina Cutler knows first-hand the impact that having a new neonatal intensive care nursery will have for families in Terrace and the surrounding area.
When her youngest son was born by Caesarean section, complications meant he was quickly airlifted to the NICU at Prince George Hospital, while Elaina – a labour room nurse herself – waited for a later flight.
While Elaina’s son is now healthy and happy, being separated shortly after delivery was traumatic for both mom and baby.
“It was awful,” she recalls. “Not having a familiar shoulder to cry on, someone you trust, who can just be there and hold your hand and physically be present, even if there’s nothing they can do, you don’t have that at all.”
Led by the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation, the “Closer to Home” campaign will add a new, four-bed, Tier 3 neonatal intensive care nursery for the Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project, offering the most current models of care for many high-risk, expectant women who walk through their doors.
The new NICU means vulnerable babies and anxious mothers, many from Indigenous communities, will have access in and near their own communities and families, instead of leaving to receive care in Vancouver or Prince George.
Separation brings lasting impacts
Fortunately, Elaina’s husband and younger son were able to drive out and join them in Prince George, but many others aren’t so fortunate. “I can’t imagine how difficult it is for someone who doesn’t have that support network. It can be very long and lonely,” she says.
It can also bring lasting impacts – from the financial costs of being away from home and mental health challenges to the emotional and spiritual effects of isolation. For First Nations families, involvement of extended family and community at a baby’s birth is central to the culture. Missing out on those initial days and weeks is significant.
“We place a lot of value on keeping families together, especially in First Nations communities, where the idea of family is ingrained right from the beginning,” Elaina says.
As a nurse working throughout the north, she sees the impact the Closer to Home initiative will have. “With this new NICU, there will be so much we can do, right here in Terrace,” she says. “I think this project is so valuable for the community. And by supporting this project, you’re not only supporting families, you’re investing in doctors and nurses and midwives.”
In all, more than 75,000 people, including 40,000 in 28 area First Nations communities will benefit from the improvements to newborn care. The facility will be able to care for births as early as 34 weeks in regular cases and 32 weeks in emergencies, rather than the current 37 weeks.
For more information and to support this crucial fundraising effort for the new NICU in Terrace, visit: remleehospitalfoundation.org/current-needs