By Eric Crest
For The Press Times
Odds are if you’ve been a patient in the newborn intensive care unit at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay, you’ve been under the watchful eye of one of the longest-tenured Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurses in the region.
Betsy Carney-Hoffman, who today is the department’s nurse manager, has been taking care of some of Northeast Wisconsin’s most vulnerable babies for 40 years.
She says it’s a profession she knew she wanted to pursue from the first day she stepped onto the NICU floor.
“When I was in nursing school in the 1980s, I had the chance to shadow a nurse working on the NICU at St. Vincent,” Carney-Hoffman said. “The nurse was caring for an infant in critical condition and committed her entire shift to making sure the baby was alright. The passion she showed to that baby absolutely amazed and inspired me.”
HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital NICU is also celebrating more than 50 years of service as the first and longest-serving NICU in the Greater Green Bay area.
Carney-Hoffman credits the experience of her team in making their NICU the largest and longest running in the region.
“The 50 nurses, doctors and therapists we have working on our NICU collectively have nearly 840 years of experience,” Carney-Hoffman said. “I have several colleagues who have been here as long as I have and will likely retire here. The experience we have as a team is unmatched in our region.”
Betsy says working in the NICU can be very fast paced, requiring her colleagues to chip in wherever they are needed at any given moment.
She said to provide as many as 26 infants life-saving care at a time, her team has to be willing to step up and help one another, on a moment’s notice.
As a Level III NICU, HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital NICU is equipped to care for infants facing some of the most complex and difficult health issues including prematurity, low birth weight, congenital birth defects and unanticipated difficulties that may happen during delivery.
It serves patients and families from across Northeast Wisconsin, the Lakeshore and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
But even working in a profession where the doors are open 24/7, 365 days a year, Carney-Hoffman said she wouldn’t change her career choice for anything.
“I think anyone who gets into this profession does so because they want to make a difference,” Carney-Hoffman said. “These babies can’t talk yet. So, we’re their eyes, ears and voice. Over time, we learn what these infants need to get better. It is so gratifying to watch their health improve and to know you made a difference.”
Making a difference one child at a time, Carney-Hoffman continues on at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital NICU working through her 40th year.
And while technological and medical advancements over the years have enhanced the care provided to babies in the NICU, she has a clear stance on what it takes to get the job done.
“You can’t be a NICU nurse just because you have the equipment,” Carney Hoffman said. “It’s more than that. It’s a calling. For 50 years now our team has been growing, evolving and changing collectively, so that we can be better year in and year out.”