Hamilton Health Sciences Opens New Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

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It was a day nurse Patty Davy and others working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Children’s Hospital thought might never come but on September 6, 2001, staff and patients moved into the hospital’s new, state-of-the-art NICU.

“People could not believe it was actually happening,” Davy said. “It was just so exciting as the babies moved and we realized this was finally a reality.”

Over the past 27 years, Davy has seen a lot of changes in the NICU. While caring for countless critically ill infants from throughout Hamilton and the region, Davy and others working in the unit witnessed first-hand a rising need for this type of specialized care. They also continued to work as hard as they could to keep up with the demand long after the realization that the unit they were working in was far too small to do the job it needed to do.

“When I first started, the unit felt very open and spacious because our numbers were so low,” Davy recalled. “When the numbers crept up, there was the sense it was overcrowded but the worst part about it all was there was no privacy at all for families. We also found that we were not able to accommodate the growing demand for beds in our unit and we were turning babies away.”

Since Hamilton’s Children’s Hospital is the regional provider of NICU care, the need for an expanded unit was recognized by both the hospital and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care more than a decade ago. As the hospital made space available for the new unit, staff, patient families, architects and others began making plans for an NICU that would not only allow the hospital to accommodate more infants but that would also cater to the unique needs of their families and staff working with the babies.

“We looked at what we didn’t have to offer in the current unit and ensured that we could offer it in the new one,” Davy said. Working in conjunction with the hospital, Parkin Architects came up with a design that would boost the unit’s capacity from 33 bassinets to 47 while allowing more space for families and their babies and for staff to do their jobs. “The team did a tremendous job when they designed it,” Davy said. “It was all done with families in mind.”

The design which includes care-by-parent rooms where parents can get better acquainted with their new babies while still benefiting from the peace of mind that a nurse is nearby is complemented by a soft color scheme, family lounge area and other thoughtful touches like soft lighting and comfortable furniture that make the unit much more welcoming to parents whose babies require the neonatal services in the hospital for an extended period of time.

Staff working in the unit are enjoying technological upgrades like “giraffes” which give the flexibility of using an incubator or an over-bed warmer without disturbing the baby and can be used to maintain a heated environment while providing easy access for families and staff. Due to the larger space they are now working in, staff are carrying pagers so that communication can be maintained even though they are no longer working within earshot of each other. All of this has meant a quieter work environment for staff and a more peaceful place for babies and their families.

While Hamilton Health Sciences’ NICU is now one of the most modern in the country, adapting to the new unit has been a challenge for staff like Davy who spent years working in its much smaller predecessor.

“The learning curve has been pretty steep because it’s a very different environment,” Davy said.

In addition to adjusting to a new communication system, nurses working in the unit are also learning to rely on health-care aids to do some of the jobs they used to do when the babies were always in view. Now nurses are able to spend more time at the bedside.

“You have to know what it was like before to really appreciate everything this new space has to offer,” Davy said. “It’s just so conducive to the needs of infants and their families because the environment is so much more relaxing.”