Several of the sessions at the Gravens Conference on neonatal intensive care earlier this month focused on strategies for enhancing the NICU experience for parents and other family members. As a parent of a former NICU baby and now a healthcare architect for a firm with an extensive pediatric hospital portfolio, I found this heartening.
Among the new parent-supportive room types are
- Couplet Care Rooms, which combine the functions of a post-partum room and single family room into one contiguous space, with attached toilet/shower room – a model used in acute care pediatric settings. For NICUs, these rooms provide often-needed flexibility to accommodate multiple births, larger, culturally diverse families, and end-of-life gatherings.
- Family Integrated Care Rooms, which provide a bed/sofa sleeper and an attached toilet/shower room. This configuration is particularly helpful in engaging parents in caregiving, encouraging them to room in.
Engaging parents as caregivers also reflects one of the functional and market forces that are driving these designs, as changing reimbursement models are putting pressure on graduating some NICU patients to less cost-intensive settings for treatment, including sending them home with scheduled nursing visits.
At the same time, new demands are creating space and adjacency requirements in the NICU, as neonatology is fragmenting into sub-specialty areas, such as neuro-neonatology; and new technologies such as in-unit mini-MRIs (used for research, diagnosis, and low-dose x-rays) become more commonplace. This increasing specialization has operational and space implications that must be factored into NICU renovation and new construction.
- Scott Mueller, AIA, is a senior healthcare architect with Shepley Bulfinch.