The Premature Nursery, which operated in the Women’s Hospital beginning in 1950, provided special care to infants weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth. The unit was an isolation area located behind two air lock doors on the ground floor of the Women’s Hospital, and consisted of 17 units, 11 incubators, and 6 isolettes. There were typically between 8 to 12 infants in the nursery at any given time, and the unit was staffed by graduate nurses under the direction of J. Cookson, the Nurse in Charge. Although this unit was not officially an intensive care unit, the Premature Nursery provided specialized treatment to infants requiring extra care, usually as a result of blood sugar issues, problems with feeding, or prematurity.

In 1956, the Children’s Hospital moved to 685 Sherbrook Street and featured a Newborn Observation Room. This unit provided ventilation and intravenous therapy to infants. By the late 1960s the unit was able to provide respiratory support for infants, as well as intravenous fluids and medications, and tube feeding. Around this time, the unit also began to be referred to as the Intensive Care Newborn Nursery, however neonatal intensive care did not officially began until 1972 with the designated Intensive Care Nursery (ICN) that opened across the hall from the original observation room. The new ICN was a ten bed unit with the capability of ventilating newborns.

In 1973, the Winnipeg Police Association donated four incubators and two negative pressure respirators. On February 20th, they attended a demonstration of the donated intensive care equipment. Pictured here, left to right: K.G. Peters, Sgt. Stan Scar (President of the Winnipeg Police Association), and Art Lobson. This photograph was published in the first issue of the CentreScope (Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1973).

The following year, in 1973, the Winnipeg Police Union donated newborn intensive care equipment to the unit, including four incubators and two negative pressure respirators. The respirators, developed by Dr. Victor Chernick, Pediatrician-in-Chief and Head of the Respiratory Service at HSC, were designed to assist the breathing of premature infants with Hyaline Membrane disease. Prior to the development of these respirators in 1971, the only method of treating infants with this disease was by positive pressure ventilation (blowing air into the lungs). Dr. Chernick’s new method used special respirators to provide continuous suction on the infants chest and allowed the deflated lungs to fill by normal respiration; it increased the survival rates of infants with this disease from 25% to 75%.

In 1984 the ICN expanded into an adjacent room to add two more beds to the unit, and a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Children’s Hospital officially opened on 2 September 1986. The Unit opened on the fourth floor of the old Children’s Hospital, and consisted of a 2,443 sq. ft. space with a capacity for eight isolettes and ten radiant warmer beds with overhead heater unit.These open beds allowed for several medical staff to attend to a baby at the same time. Arrangements were also made to ensure that the space was fully capable of computerized patient monitoring systems, to be installed at a later date.

The Unit also opened with  3,067 sq. ft. of support service space, which included a parent lounge, and mother-baby bonding room, a doctor’s call room, a 24-hour satellite pharmacy, a respiratory technology work station, a multi-purpose room, storage rooms, and patient/security call system. The new Unit replaced a 915 sq. ft. area that no longer provided optimal care for newborns.

During the 1990s, the Nursery in Women’s Hospital became an Intermediate Care Nursery. With the opening of the new Women’s Hospital, the present NICU in Children’s Hospital will be amalgamating all of its current neonatal beds into a new and expanded Neonatal ICU and Intermediate Care Nursery in located Women’s Hospital. This means that a convalescing mother and her newborn requiring special attention will be cared for in the same building, rather than in two separate buildings across campus from each other. Both care units will feature private rooms and rooms to accommodate multiple births.

Below are two pages from a 1968 Children’s Hospital Newsletter focusing on the Intensive Care Nursery and the kind of care provided. Note that the article mentions that expansion plans have been approved and that renovations would begin in the following month to construct the new unit, however the move did not occur until 1972.

Neonatal Transport

The above article ends with a statement on the difficulty and importance of neonatal transport – especially in rural communities. The Neonatal Transport program in Winnipeg commenced in July 1981 and provides care and transport for critically ill infants throughout Manitoba, Northwestern Ontario, and Nunavut to the Health Sciences Centre or St. Boniface General Hospital.

The team consists of specially trained nurses, physicians with neonatal training or specializations, and respiratory therapists. The transport team is available at all times, with a back-up team available as well if necessary. The Winnipeg Ambulance Service transports the team on the ground if the emergency is within a 150 kilometre radius of Winnipeg; otherwise the team is flown by the Lifeflight-Manitoba Air Ambulance.

In the first 25 years of operation, the Neonatal Transport Team made 5790 transports, which averages to about four to five transports per week. 2016 is the 35th anniversary of the Neonatal Transport Team.

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Photographs of NICU