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Mercy Unveils First Phase of New Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

New NICU
New NICU at Mercy/Credit Sonya Kullmann

Inside the current Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, it’s surprisingly quiet. But at any moment, an infant’s cry could carry across this wide open space in which premature babies receive care.

Now, thanks to several generous donations – including $2 million from Bobby Allison – the completion of the first phase of a new unit intends to create a quieter, healthier and private care unit with individual family rooms, including larger “twin” rooms for multiple-birth families. The hospital says that large sliding glass doors and the latest technology means nurses can still keep a constant watch over the babies, but their families will also have the room they need to sit quietly with their newborns.

Dr. Melinda Slack is the medical director for the nursery at Mercy.

“The philosophy on the past was that you have a small patient, you don’t need much space… There are studies that clearly delineate that those babies need their own, what we call gestationallyappropriate environment. And so what a 23, 24-week baby whose born 16 weeks prematurely needs is far different than what a term baby needs. And so having these individual rooms allows us to providegestationally appropriate care,” Dr. Slack said.

Mercy’s former 28-bed NICU was one large room with infant beds sharing space with family members, scrub areas and the nurses’ stations. While this is a common design for NICUs across the country, Mercy says family members often felt in the way of the care team and that the busy environment could prove over-stimulating to the small babies.

Dr. Slack says planning for the new unit started roughly a decade ago, including trips to eight other facilities across the nation to gather information, plus the organization of a Parent Advisory Council, whose members provided recommendations for the project.

“The other thing we know from the single family, single room design, is that it decreases the risk of infection, because you aren’t next to or near other patients. It decreases length of stay three to four days – and of course the best place for a baby is home, not at the hospital. And it also facilitates confidence and care of the family and bonding as they prepare to go home.”

Upon completion of a second phase, scheduled for June 2014, the Betty and Bobby Allison Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will make up 36,000 square feet – nearly four times the size of the current NICU - and be able to care for more than 50 babies.

Other significant donors with gifts totaling $480,000 are Beth and John Raidel, Dr. Walter and Martha Gaska, Dr. K. Fon and Kimberly Huang, Pediatrix Medical Group, Inc., The Smile Foundation, Dr. Eric and Kristi Fulnecky and Children, Dr. Alexander and Barbara Hover, Empire Bank and Central Trust and Investment Company, Arvest Bank, Dr. Elizabeth J. Andrews, Dr. John M. Burson, The Rick’s Automotive Family.

The public is invited to tour the new NICU on Wednesday, Dec. 12 from 3 to 6:30 p.m.  Tours begin at Mercy Hospital Springfield's south main entrance.