Seattle Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) moved on March 1, 2021, to a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art facility occupying the whole fourth floor of the hospital’s Forest A section. Careful planning for the expanded space included listening to input from providers, staff and families who have used the NICU to create a family-friendly environment of care.

The NICU is designed to create a healing environment and empower parents to participate in their baby’s care both at the hospital and in preparation for discharge.

“Our new NICU space is built on a philosophy of family engagement,” says NICU director Lori Chudnofsky. “We’re focusing more robustly than ever on helping families to be involved in their baby’s care in every way possible, like holding their baby, kangaroo care, participating in provider rounds and care conferences, and finding a quiet space for self-care without leaving the NICU.”

Features of the new NICU:

  • Thirty-two spacious private rooms (no doubles)
  • Near key departments: ED, PICU and cardiac intensive care unit
  • All rooms have a bathroom with shower, refrigerator, touch screen TV, recliner for holding the baby at the bedside and pull-out sofa bed for overnight stays
  • Every room has a breast pump and specialized milk warmer
  • Rooms have space and equipment to provide bedside surgery, if needed
  • Quiet rooms for parents in each wing (two)
  • Room service available

Culture of quiet

The NICU is carefully designed to be developmentally appropriate for babies, especially those who are healing. Lighting is adjusted in the babies’ rooms (not too bright, not too dark). Natural light, which aids healing, fills the unit. Fridges are extra quiet. TV volumes are controlled. Sound sensors around the unit remind everyone to speak in hushed voices.

The importance of patient- and family-centered care in the NICU

Patient- and family-centered care is a passion shared by Chudnofsky, who has spoken internationally on the topic, and her physician counterpart in the NICU, Dr. Robert DiGeronimo. The NICU team has gleaned best practices from other NICUs around the country and looked extensively at the research about what creates the best possible outcomes for babies.

“We know that the amount of time we spend with our patients is relatively brief, and then they go home with their families who will take care for them for the long-term. It is our privilege to be with these babies, on what we often call the ‘sacred ground’ of the NICU. These are the special moments where we help families care for their infants and show them how to advocate for them here, so they can take that knowledge outside the walls of the NICU as they continue on caring for and advocating for their children.”

Family “boarding passes” for a safe journey to the new unit  

Behind the scenes over the last year, the hospital’s Partners in Care team prepared for the move to be as easy as possible on families. Teams of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and others escorted the tiny residents of the old NICU and their families to their new rooms in the new NICU. Families received airline style “boarding passes” as a memento of the move day, with departure times, what to pack and who would accompany them.

For more information, contact NICU director Lori Chudnofsky at lori.chudnofsky@seattlechildrens.org.