Dr. Elizabeth Christ, left, professor of pediatric critical care, talks with, from left, Dr. Jonathan Smith, Dr. Marivee Borges Rodriguez and Nikki Mayo, nurse practitioner.
Dr. Elizabeth Christ, left, professor of pediatric critical care, talks with, from left, Dr. Jonathan Smith, Dr. Marivee Borges Rodriguez and Nikki Mayo, nurse practitioner.
Main Content

New specialists add to record PICU care team numbers

Published on Thursday, October 4, 2018

By: Annie Oeth

The most critically ill and injured children in the state have never had so many physicians and nurse practitioners at their side.

With the addition of Dr. Vishwanath Gajula and Dr. Laura Wright-Sexton in August, the pediatric intensive care unit at Batson Children’s Hospital has the largest number of care providers in UMMC history.

“We now have 11 critical care physicians and 10 acute care nurse practitioners,” said Dr. Jarrod Knudson, associate professor and chief of pediatric critical care.

Dr. Jarrod Knudson, chief of pediatric critical care, and Shelly Ivers Craft, nurse manager, are key members of the PICU leadership team.

That wasn’t the case earlier in the decade, when the numbers of pediatric critical care physicians and nurse practitioners in the PICU was less than a third of current numbers.

“About seven years ago, we had three pediatric critical care physicians and three nurse practitioners.”

That dramatic increase was driven by improvements in care offered at Batson Children’s Hospital.

“During those years, we became a Level I trauma center, we got our ECMO (heart-lung life support machines) program back, the pediatric heart surgery program was revitalized, and we started our pediatric organ transplant programs,” Knudson said. “To do all those things well, we have to have highly skilled medical professionals to care for these patients.”

The unit now includes 11 pediatric critical care specialists, including Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of pediatrics, who sees pediatric cardiac ICU patients, as well as 10 nurse practitioners and 82 nurses.

Growth is expected to continue once UMMC’s $180 million pediatric expansion is opened in fall 2020, Knudson said.

The seven-story tower now under construction will include 32 private pediatric intensive care rooms, each of which will be more spacious for care teams as well as for parents.

A new home for the Children’s Heart Center, additional surgical suites, 88 private neonatal intensive care rooms, a pediatric imaging center and an outpatient subspecialty clinic are also part of expansion plans.

“We are caring for the most critically ill children in the state,” said PICU nurse manager Shelly Ivers Craft, “but we need more resources, more nurses and nurse practitioners, more physicians across the board to provide the best care for these children and families.”

From left, Ivers Craft and Knudson collaborate with Michelle Welander, lead clinical planner for the pediatrics expansion, Haley Windham, nurse educator, and Lindsey Segrest, clinical outcomes coordinator.

Critical care often calls for collaboration with doctors from other subspecialties, such as cardiology, oncology and neurology, “our role in critical care is keeping watch 24-7 over a child’s organ functions and working to keep them stable,” Knudson said. “There are also conditions that are treated specifically by critical care specialists, such as shock, respiratory failure, allergic reactions and drug overdoses.”

Dr. Vishwanath Gajula and Dr. Laura Wright-Sexton are the newest physicians to join the PICU, but neither is a newcomer to UMMC. In 2015, Gajula joined Children’s of Mississippi, the pediatric arm of UMMC, as a hospitalist in Tupelo.