Health & Spirit

'We are a team': Retiring neonatal pioneer helped California's tiniest babies survive — and thrive

Caroline Ghisolfi, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Health & Fitness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- He was a pioneer in medical care for the Sacramento region's tiniest and most vulnerable patients, who in his 45 years at Sutter Health transformed its neonatal unit into a regional powerhouse.

And at his retirement ceremony this month, Dr. Andrew Wertz shared some wisdom he's learned over the years:

"Listen to the nurses, pay attention to what (they) are telling you," Wertz said. "We are a team."

His team of physicians, nurses and therapists has grown over the years from about 30 in 1984 to more than 150 today.

Many of those staff members at the Aug. 9 ceremony gave heartfelt and emotional testimony about Wertz and his impact on them, his patients, his community and his profession.

Wertz transformed Sutter's nursery into an advanced neonatal intensive care unit in midtown known as the Special Care Nursery, according to Sutter Health and the California Department of Health Care Services. In 2008, he pushed to open a sister facility in Roseville, where he became the medical director until his retirement this month.


Sacramento's assistant nurse manager Patty Duncan, who worked with Wertz for 37 years, said he was exceptional at what he did. His diagnoses were on the money, he worked around the clock and was constantly on the lookout for new and better ways of saving and improving lives, she said.

He trained his staff to have a similar approach. Duncan, along with Roseville neonatal unit manager Jennifer Schlager and Sacramento nurse director Chrisi Walsh, described their nursing careers as educational and enriching experiences.

"Nurses always came in because everybody thoroughly enjoyed their job," Duncan said. "They wanted to be part of the excitement. And part of it was because (they) really wanted to work with Dr. Wertz, they really wanted to help those babies survive."

Wertz's methods didn't just pay off with his staff.


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