WakeMed’s new area for premature babies includes private rooms

sgilman@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2014 

— Twelve of the tiniest patients at WakeMed moved into their own private rooms Thursday as the hospital’s renovated neonatal intensive care unit opened.

The new NICU space adds 12,000 square feet and 12 beds, for a total of 21,000 square feet and 48 beds. Most notably, the $8 million project adds 27 private rooms, something almost unheard of in such a unit.

“You don’t see that very often at all,” said Kristin Kelly Gruman, a WakeMed spokeswoman. “What we’re doing that no one else is doing is having the private rooms.”

The 12 babies who moved into the private rooms had been in an area of the NICU called “glass rooms.” There, incubators alternated with a recliner, a rolling chair and medical equipment in what doctors called a “pinwheel” setup. Though it was ideal for nurses monitoring the vital signs of babies too young to eat and breathe on their own, parents had no place to spend the night.

For first-time parents Misty and Ryan Hilliard, that meant hours and days in a recliner. They have been spending time in the hospital since Dec. 13, when their daughter, Kyrsten Skye Hilliard, was born at 25 weeks gestation.

Kyrsten weighed 2 pounds. Now she weighs about 4. Brown haired with blueish-green eyes, Kyrsten can coo and just started eating from a bottle, though it makes her very tired, Ryan Hilliard said.

The parents are tired, too.

“Every parent will probably tell you it’s a roller-coaster. There are good days and bad days, but everyone has been really nice,” Ryan Hilliard said.

“She’s looking forward to having her own room,” he said with a smile. “The room will allow Kyrsten to have more quiet time, and it will allow us to have more breastfeeding without getting interrupted.”

The new rooms have a recliner, a sofa that extends for sleeping, a refrigerator for breast milk, artwork on the walls and plenty of space to freely move.

‘In the center’

James Perciaccante, director of neonatology at WakeMed, said the old equipment was “state of the art 20 years ago.” Newer technology in recent years includes things such as monitors that call nurses’ phones directly.

“If there’s a problem, her phone will ring,” he said. “It will tell her exactly what is going on.”

In addition, Perciaccante said, the new arrangement puts parents “in the center.” Nurses train parents to be involved in their baby’s care.

“The mom can put the baby to her skin, and that will regulate the baby’s temperature,” he said.

Parents will have more personal space, be able to close the door and even spend the night in the remaining weeks before their babies are strong enough to go home. And they can socialize with other parents in the lounge areas at the end of the hallways.

“One of the good things about the old setup is you get to know your neighbor. We don’t want to lose that,” Perciaccante said. “For a three- or four-month stay, relationships are really important.”

‘More supportive’

WakeMed’s Dr. James Helm said the hospital prides itself on individualized care for all patients, including preemies. Doctors watch each baby’s reaction to stimuli and change care accordingly.

“If you’re sensitive to those individual differences, you can be more supportive,” he said. “We hope the new rooms add to our ability to enhance the experience of families and babies. More privacy, more individually controlled environments. It’s much more all about that baby.”

Gilman: 919-553-7234, ext. 104

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