In the midst of labor and delivery, conditions can change in a heartbeat. That’s why it’s so important to have experienced nurses keeping a close eye on patients and their babies throughout the entire process.
An innovative new “OB Hub” initiative at Saint Joseph Hospital and Lutheran Medical Center in the Denver metro area provides 24/7 fetal monitoring by highly skilled and experienced nurses. Similar to what happens in a cardiac unit, specially trained nurses sit in a room full of monitors and watch for any changes in fetal heartbeat that might indicate a problem.
“When a woman is in labor, the baby’s heartbeat reveals valuable information about the baby’s well-being,” said Deb Lowery, Administrative Director of Women's and Infants Services. “Drastic changes, or even slight changes, tell us different things. Fetal monitors can be difficult to read sometimes if you don’t know what to look for.”
“It’s like walking into an air traffic control center,” said Jessie Sanchez, a charge nurse at Saint Joseph Hospital with 20 years of labor and delivery experience, and one of the OB Hub monitoring nurses. “There are monitors everywhere and we’re watching fetal strips (heartbeat monitors) all the time. We can have slow days when there are maybe five babies on the monitors or busy days when we’re watching more than 20. There’s also a background program running all the time that can alert us to different cues for added safety.”
If the OB Hub nurses see a problem, they alert the floor nurses who can quickly intervene.
Safer deliveries and improved outcomes
“Fetal heart rate issues can happen for a variety of reasons,” Sanchez said. “The majority of the time, we can resolve the issue and the babies respond. What the OB Hub has allowed us to do is to identify trends that are going on with the babies’ heart rates and make us more aware of how they’re doing.”
“When there’s a surge in patients and resources may be slightly more limited, this provides so much reassurance,” Lowery added. “If the nurses get super busy, patients know there’s still someone watching your baby at all times.”
The ultimate goal? Safer deliveries, higher APGAR (appearance, pulse, grimace, activity and respiration) scores used to evaluate the baby’s health immediately after birth, and improved overall outcomes.
“This isn’t something that’s currently being done across the country,” Lowery pointed out. “It’s a new approach, and it provides a huge layer of added protection for the patients.”
Approved as a permanent program
After an initial six-month trial that began in March 2021, the OB Hub received approval to continue as a permanent program. Nearly 6,000 babies have now been born with the additional OB Hub monitoring in place.
SCL Health plans to implement the hub system-wide by September. Lowery hopes the concept will catch on in other organizations and has been fielding calls from healthcare groups wanting to learn more about the OB Hub since the program launched.
“If my daughter was delivering a baby, I’d want her to come here,” Lowery said.