Navigating the NICU

I was looking through some old articles I bookmarked for later reading and found this one, about a person hired to help families navigate the difficult world of Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). While the article presents the job description of a person hired specifically to coordinate families as they deal with premature babies, it resonates with the need for good design in hospitals.

Intensive Care Units (ICUs) support the most fragile of patients. This very support means the spaces need extra attention in their design, from the mechanical systems flushing fresh air through the space, to the layout (where visibility from hospital staff members is a high priority), to the machines that support their lives, to the way visitors arrive and visit the patients themselves. Neonatal ones are no exception, and it’s difficult for parents to understand how navigate those spaces. I appreciate Sunnybrook Hospital’s hire, because it illustrates their desire to help parents navigate the NICU system there, that person makes the policies and procedures so much easier to understand, and gives the parents someone to relate to.

It makes me wonder what kind of design changes could take place, not only to help speed the recovery process of premature babies and those with other health problems, but also to help the parents. Mothers need time to heal from these traumatic deliveries. But they also need to spend time with their children. I know the equipment needed to help these little ones is very important, but is there a way of minimizing the feel of the breathing machines and tubes, and interjecting some life from outside those stabilizing entities? My personal mantra is to look at the patient as a whole: biologically, psychologically and socially. With babies, the biology extremely important, however they do also need the social and physical touch of their families. The parents, while they also need the psychological and social contact with their babies, and people who can support them, they also need space where they can see beyond the lights of the machines that keep their children alive. They need hope, and I believe hope can be found in both machines, and nature. I also wonder, is there a way of bringing policies and procedures into the design itself?

If anyone has any images of new NICU designs that are healing spaces beyond just room for medical equipment, I’d love to see them.

I also would like to know if Sunnybrook Hospital, especially their NICU, has implemented an EBD process to see if her job is helping both the parents and the child; if its helping speed up the healing process of the infant because the parents are more at ease.

3 thoughts on “Navigating the NICU

  1. Hi there. I’m the NICU parent coordinator at Sunnybrook, and I came across your post when looking for info about EBD. Have you seen this amazing presentation by Dr Robert White?
    Some very interesting things about NICU design and practice.
    You might also be interested in looking in to how they do level II care in Tallinn, Estonia. There the whole family is admitted to hospital when the baby comes to the NICU, and the hospital design reflects that. There’s stroller parking, for example, and dormitory accommodation for families. Not cutting edge design but practical responses to their needs. I’ll also ask one of my co-workers about NICU design; she was deeply involved in our redesign and so knows about the latest & greatest in NICUs.
    If you have any thoughts you could share with respect to EBD and role assessment, I’d love to hear them!
    All the best,


    • Thanks for the comment Kate! I hadn’t looked up the presentation by Dr. White before today, and think its very good. I’ll probably do a separate post on it; its so informative. I will also look into the level II care in Tallinn, Estonia, as well as several other of the case studies from the presentation. I’d love to hear more about new NICUs, so if your co-worker has any other resources, please let me know!

      I haven’t spent much time with EBD and role assessment. Can I assume you mean with respect to staff member assessment in job performance?



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