Newborn Intensive Care cameras offer families peace of mind

Vianey Arreola of Goodyear and her daughter Sophia at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Vianey Arreola spent a week this year living at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The Goodyear mom only left her newborn, Sophia, to race home for a quick shower and to check on her 7-year-old son, Eduardo, for a few hours each day.

But while she was at home, she was still able to keep an eye on Sophia, thanks to new cameras above every crib in the Phoenix hospital’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit. The cameras were installed in June 2016.

Barb Harvey, the NICU’s clinical manager, had seen the cameras at a neonatal conference and knew she wanted them for her ward. Fortunately, so did the hospital’s tech team, which decided to create a secure system themselves.

“In all, there are 31 cameras,” Harvey says. “Thirteen in private rooms and one over each bed in the open space of the unit.”

Phoenix Children’s is the only Arizona hospital with cameras over newborn intensive-care cribs. The unit offers the highest level of care a baby in trouble might need, from surgeries to consultations with specialists.

Adding the cameras — giving worried parents and families full-time access to their beloved babies — just made sense, Harvey says. Baby Sophia was transported to the hospital at two days old because she was jaundiced. Her mother used the camera the week she was at the hospital, but Sophia’s dad also benefited.

“He only got to be with her for one day (when) he was on vacation, then he had to go back to Sacramento where he works,” Arreola says. Dad loved checking in on his daughter, as did Sophia’s big brother.

Eduardo “can’t come into this area because he’s only 7,” Arreola says. “He’s so happy to see his sister.”

When they first check into Phoenix Children’s, parents are emailed a link to an encrypted site and can view their baby in the NICU in real time. There is no charge for the service and nothing to install; parents just log in. Only the baby’s legal guardians can activate the Virtual Visit webcam, which can be viewed on a computer or a smartphone.

Harvey says she has seen military dads stationed overseas, siblings and grandparents who live elsewhere take advantage of the cameras.

“I talked to a grandfather. He was excited. He said, ‘This is the best thing! We’ve been in Tucson, and I’m able to see him.’ ”

Harvey says the cameras give parents of newborns a sense of comfort, which means they sometimes can get much-needed rest themselves.

“A mom who has just delivered is still recuperating, and if (she has) a chance to go home and sleep comfortably in her own bed, but still has a chance to peek in on the baby, it’s really great.”

NICU nurse Jane Maxwell wasn’t always a believer. “I thought, ‘This is not going to work. Parents shouldn’t watch all the time.’ I was just convinced it was going to be a terrible thing,” she says. “Now I’m probably one of the biggest supporters.”

Maxwell’s fear was that parents watching from home would see their baby fussing and get frustrated if help didn’t arrive immediately.

“Parents do call, it does happen — not as often as we thought it would, but it does happen, and that’s OK,” she says. “I just talk to the parents and tell them, ‘I was on my way,’ or, ‘OK, I didn’t see that, and I’m glad you called. I’ll go take care of it.’ I haven’t gotten a lot of those calls, but now I appreciate it when I do. It’s understandable. I wouldn’t turn those cameras off for anything.”