CHOC to open NICU with all private rooms where parents can spend the night

From The Orange County Register

By Courtney Perkes

For three months, Jasmine Lujan has stayed by her premature daughter’s bedside at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, in a cramped, windowless corner of the neonatal intensive care unit. The pod fits one chair and has only a curtain for privacy.

By midnight, she departs for the Ronald McDonald House to spend the night.

“It’s always difficult leaving,” said Lujan, 28, of Rialto. “I have a hard time going to sleep because I’m wondering, is she awake? Is she crying?”

But next week, her baby, Riley Mae, will be moved to CHOC’s new $19 million NICU with 36 private rooms designed for parents to stay overnight with their newborns. The bright 190-square-foot rooms all have windows and a couch and chair that convert to beds.

The current NICU, built in 1991, provides only 42 square feet of bedside space, partitioned by curtains, in large, noisy “open-bay” rooms with as many as seven other babies.

Private rooms are not only quieter and more comfortable for families, but a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that premature babies staying in private rooms gained more weight, experienced less pain and required fewer medical procedures than babies who were treated in the traditional format.

Researchers said the improved health outcomes came from increased maternal involvement in feeding, changing diapers and skin-to-skin contact.

Melissa Terah, a NICU clinical nurse manager, said she expects the private rooms will result in shorter stays.

“The sooner we can get them home, the sooner they can start their lives as a family,” Terah said.

She added that the private rooms will promote more breastfeeding or pumping and give dads and siblings the space to bond with the baby. The new design will also mean less disruption for other families who are sometimes asked to leave the room when another baby needs a sterile medical procedure.

Babies stay in the NICU anywhere from a few days to as long as five months. Many are born premature but others may have jaundice, a birth defect requiring surgery or oxygen deprivation experienced at birth. One nurse typically cares for two babies.

CHOC’s 22-bed small baby unit, which opened in 2010, will not relocate, so those parents will not be able to sleep there.

Terah said historically NICUs were designed around the needs of hospital staff rather than family-centered care.

“They were considered visitors, not part of the care team,” she said of parents. “It was definitely more about what was convenient for the care provider. It’s a huge change, but it’s also a change that needs to take place.”

Four years ago, CHOC opened a NICU with private rooms at neighboring St. Joseph Hospital. Kristin Fischer, also a NICU clinical nurse manager, said families take advantage of the chance to spend the night.

“We get the parents in a routine of how they’re going to be at home,” Fischer said. “They understand what it’s like to get up every three hours to feed the baby.”

Lujan, whose daughter must gain more weight before undergoing heart surgery, expects that she will stay in the hospital until September. When she holds her baby, there’s nowhere to walk with her.

“I feel like we’re stuck,” Lujan said. “There’s not much I can do in here with the confined space.”

Lujan visited the new unit on Thursday, July 13, and said she and her husband will take turns spending the night with Riley. She said the TV in the room will keep their 6-year-old son entertained.

The new unit also has showers, a sibling play room and a kitchen so families can bring their own food.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “I’m really excited for my daughter to move here.”

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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine