TeleNICU ‘a game changer’ at Adventist Health Tillamook’s Family Birth Place

By Hospital Association of Oregon staff

Nestled beside Tillamook Bay, Adventist Health Tillamook is a small-town hospital located just a short distance from the renowned Tillamook cheese factory. The hospital operates within a close-knit community, serving as a vital health care hub that prides itself on helping its patients “experience everything life has to offer.” 

That includes safely delivering a baby at the hospital’s Family Birth Place, which recently joined Oregon Health & Science University’s telemedicine network. Through the TeleNICU, Adventist Health Tillamook’s care team is able to quickly connect with neonatologists by video when specialist advice is urgently needed. 

Because of its rural location, the low-risk labor and delivery unit typically sends expecting moms with higher-risk pregnancies to hospitals in Portland, said Marian Johnson, a clinical nurse manager with 15 years of experience. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t show up,” she said. 

When babies are born with complications, the TeleNICU robot—a high-definition camera mounted on top of a computer—allows the team at OHSU to have “eyes” on the patient and provide instruction during an emergency such as resuscitation.  

“We’re a rural hospital,” Johnson said. “Our job is to manage their (the infants) care until help can come.” Johnson got the idea to bring the TeleNICU to Adventist Health Tillamook after seeing the robot in action in the emergency department, where teams used it to consult with neurologists on patients experiencing a stroke—another health emergency where seconds matter.  

“When I took over, I started to get the idea that wouldn’t it be nice if we had that additional support of telemedicine (in labor and delivery),” Johnson said. She arranged for the maternity team to use the robot, which meant bringing a specialist into the case as it unfolded. The results were immediate. 

“The first time that we used it I felt a sense of calm because I knew that as I was doing the procedures and as I was intervening with the baby, I had somebody there to help guide me through,” Johnson said.  

Thanks to the TeleNICU, babies are now getting big-city medicine right in Tillamook. Some must still make the trip to Portland, but others can stay in their community, supported by family and friends.    

“It’s been a game changer,” Johnson said “I did not realize the benefits that we would see from getting these babies shipped out faster to having a real-time neonatologist on the line instructing us on things to do, and interventions. We are able to do more complex procedures, intervene faster, recognizing symptoms.” 

The hospital reached out to the community to raise $75,000 to purchase another robot so the labor and delivery team can have its own TeleNICU. The community responded, and the robot is now in place and on the job. For the team, helping these fragile babies make their way through their first days is all the motivation they need to continue growing the telemedicine program at their hospital.  

“These are pretty important patients,” Johnson said.