Patient Safety, Family-Centered Care are Focus of Critical Care Hospital’s New Neonatal ICU

Quiet floors, private rooms and the most modern medical equipment for newborns all contribute to a safe, comfortable environment in the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Critical Care Hospital.

Created with input from VCU Medical Center staff and based on years of research into the developmental needs of premature and critically ill newborns, each room of the 40-bed NICU sets the stage for a positive healing environment for patients and their families.

“I call these ‘single-family’ rooms because it is integral in the care of any critically ill newborn to get the family engaged from the start,” said Sharon Cone, RN, nurse manager of the neonatal ICU. “We wanted to create an environment that was not only functionally efficient for medical staff, but also would encourage interaction between parents and their baby in a calm and comforting way.”

Features in the new intensive care unit include:

•    Four double rooms for twins and 32 single family rooms.
•    Rubber floor tiles, acoustical ceiling tiles and plastic privacy curtain tracks that reduce undesirable noise.
•    Adjustable overhead and auxiliary lighting that reduces infant stress.
•    Specially designed headwalls that allow caregivers easy access to bassinets as well as monitors, medical gases and communication to nursing stations.
•    Isolated medication preparation areas to prevent distraction when preparing medications.
•    A family lounge, resource center and play area for visiting siblings.
•    Pull-out sofas in each room for parents, along with a desk and customized, secure wardrobe.

The design of the headwalls in each room was the result of input from staff and of research into how caregivers can optimize the way they approach the bedside and perform various tasks.

"The headwalls are angled in a way that allows staff to easily attach medical devices to suction, air and oxygen outlets without reaching behind equipment to do it," Cone said. “Also, there is a trough at the base of the headwalls to store cords and cables to prevent trip hazards.”

Another safety measure involved reducing the number of times a patient has to be moved during a stay. To address this, designers built a larger room on the same floor that enables staff to perform routine procedures that, in the past, may have required traveling to an operating room.

"We have always felt privileged that parents have trusted us to care for their seriously ill newborn baby,” said Henry Rozycki, M.D., interim chair of the Division of Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine. “Now we have a setting where we can not only bring all the latest and the best treatments to the babies in Central Virginia, but we can do it in a true partnership with the family.”

“Control of a sick newborn’s environment has always been a critical element of our treatment,” said Gary Gutcher, M.D., professor of pediatrics and former chairman of the Division of Neonatology. “This new NICU is a shining example of the union of form and function.”

The VCU Medical Center’s NICU is the largest in Central Virginia and serves as a hub for patients with its regional transport system. The VCU Medical Center also is the only facility in the region that offers Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a process that provides both cardiac and respiratory support to newborns with heart and lung issues.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see