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Through a Nurse’s Eyes: WakeMed’s Newly Expanded NICU

WakeMed’s new expansion of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) opened to patients on February 20, 2014.  Not only did it add 12 new patient beds, but it marked the introduction of “single-room care” for NICU patients, which includes 27 private rooms.  Single-room care allows families to spend almost unlimited time with their babies and makes it easier for nursing mothers to have privacy.

Carol Engrahm, RNC-NIC, has worked as a nurse on the NICU at WakeMed for almost 24 years.  She recently shared her thoughts about the NICU expansion – also called the “Garden of Life” expansion – and how it has positively impacted staff, patients and families.

Our new, individual-room NICU is very different than our existing unit.  Every baby and family has a private room.  As a nurse who has only worked in an open concept NICU, I had a few apprehensions at first.  I am used to actually “seeing” all of my patients and families and being accessible to them instantly.  However, after working a couple of shifts [in the new expansion], my fears were gone.  With the monitors and nurse call system going directly to my phone, and with central monitoring outside of the rooms, we are always within safe and easy accessibility.  If there are any changes in a baby’s heart rate or other vital signs, I know immediately through a ring to my phone. 

I take a lot of comfort in knowing that our babies can only benefit from being in the private rooms.  They are not subjected to the noise, lighting and other disturbances that can be experienced in the open NICU.  The surroundings in each private room can also be tailored to each baby’s needs.  For example, lighting can be adjusted to different levels, parents can provide music to play softly and the TVs are controlled through the nurse call system in-room pillow speaker so the volume is never blasted throughout the room.  Some rooms have windows to the outside as well.  These windows are controlled by an advanced blind system that can let in as much or as little outside light as a family prefers.

It’s been wonderful to see that families love the private rooms.  As a nurse, it’s a priceless feeling to observe families relaxing with their babies.  They are sheltered from the happenings in the rest of the unit, such as light, noise and other critical situations close to them, and they can truly focus on their own baby.  I believe this allows them to bond sooner and more closely.  They can “learn” their baby as a true individual and have private time to be a family .  It can sometimes be difficult for NICU parents to feel like they are actually “parents” while their baby is a patient.  The individual rooms in the Garden of Life expansion help give them more control of their baby’s care, as well as more alone time with baby.

I love the Garden of Life expansion.  It’s beautiful and calming both to me and the babies and families for which I have cared.  Whenever you can say that a critical care unit is “beautiful and calming,” it’s quite impactful.  The expansion is so quiet even when it’s busy – I can’t imagine a NICU expanding in a different format now that I have seen and experienced these benefits.  It will truly help foster and provide family-centered care.

To learn more about WakeMed’s newly expanded NICU, click here. Thank you to Carol Engrahm, RNC-NIC,  for sharing her thoughts and perspective for this post!