Norton Children’s Hospital unveils final phase of NICU renovations

Highest level of care available for more than 1,200 infants a year

A newly renovated neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital was unveiled Feb. 13 as the culmination of a five-phase, $22.1 million project to update existing NICU space to a developmental model of care centered around the individual needs of infants and families. The overall project includes $12 million in support from the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation. The Norton Children’s Hospital NICU is one of the largest in the country with 101 beds.

“Our team of specialists care for more than 1,200 infants a year in the NICU,” said Emmett C. Ramser, chief administrative officer of Norton Children’s Hospital. “Renovating this space while we continue to provide top-notch care is no small task, but our teams have done it. Our NICU spaces now have a family-centered atmosphere with private spaces that have been shown to improve outcomes for premature and medically fragile infants.”

According to the March of Dimes, in 2018, 10% of infants nationwide were born prematurely. In Kentucky, that number is 11.3% and Indiana slightly better at 10.2%. When given proper care in a NICU, many times these infants can overcome their health challenges.

“Advances in medical technology now allow more premature infants to survive at lower birth weights,” said Dan L. Stewart, M.D., neonatologist and medical director of the NICU.

Babies also require NICU care for congenital birth defects and childbirth complications. Some of them are in the unit for a few days, others for several months. Many are born at Norton Hospital, which is home to a maternal-fetal medicine program that specializes in the treatment of high-risk pregnancies. They are then whisked across a pedway to the NICU for the care they need. Still more infants come for the specialized heart care provided through Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville. Often these patients are diagnosed through the fetal echocardiography program that identifies an infant’s heart issues in utero and allows specialists to plan for care right after birth.

“We are able to offer a Level IV NICU, which means we are a regional center with services to treat all medical and surgical needs of newborns, including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and cardiopulmonary bypass for serious congenital heart defects,” said Dr. Stewart, who also is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “This renovated space better incorporates the family in the care of their baby.”

Earlier phases of the project added a family space and family-centered care areas at Norton Hospital and private rooms on half of the third floor at Norton Children’s Hospital. In addition, the top floor of the open-air three-story main lobby was filled in to make way for the final phase of construction.

“Gifts given to the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation allowed us to provide vital support to this important project, which means a great deal to the more than 1,200 families who need our NICU services each year,” said Lynnie Meyer, Ed.D., R.N., CFRE, senior vice president and chief development officer, Norton Healthcare. “It truly takes a village to care for these critically ill and premature infants who deserve every chance at life.”

This final phase of the project on the third floor of the hospital has space for 29 infants. Patients will be treated there beginning in the next few weeks. One of the rooms is a “care by parent” room, which allows parents to prepare for discharge and provide total care for their infant with the resources of the hospital and specialists nearby. The new space also includes a specialized area for feeding preparation. Many infants in this unit require additives to human milk or formula. The feeding prep space is convenient to the entrance of the unit for moms who need to drop off milk. It has a hands-free office space and contains specialty freezers and refrigeration for breast milk and formulas.

The renovations to incorporate a developmental care model included enclosing patient areas, which provides privacy for family members while they spend time with their infant —

something that was not part of NICUs constructed 30 years ago. Each 150- to 180-square-foot room in this area now features a flat-screen television with DVD player for family education and entertainment, a rocking chair/recliner, a taller chair that swivels and is the same height as the incubator, a sleep bench that allows for a comfortable place for parents to rest or sleep when staying with their baby, plus additional storage areas. Each room also has a breast pump, allowing mothers to stay close while pumping breast milk. This can help increase milk production.

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The rooms also are equipped with state-of-the-art incubators and physiological monitors linked to a central monitor at the nurses’ station. Direct/indirect lighting provides the correct level of light exposure, and colorful paint and countertops complement the warm, family-focused environment. The NICU also offers NicView, which allows families not able to be at the hospital to see their child in real time via secure video conferencing.

In addition to patient care space, the unit now includes a new welcome center and family space with an interactive sibling play area, quiet area overlooking the future healing garden, family nutrition area and family laundry room. A conference room also has been added for staff and physician education sessions and meetings.

Major donors to the project include Elizabeth Turner Campbell, Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Festival of Trees & Lights and Snow Ball, The Gheens Foundation, Robert W. Rounsavall Jr. Family Foundation Inc., Speedway,Qdoba, WHAS Crusade for Children and White Castle.