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CHKD Opens Redesigned NICU

Contact: Elizabeth Earley at (757) 668-9049 or Elizabeth.Earley@CHKD.org
2020-09-15

Private Rooms Promote Individual and Family-Centered Care

NORFOLK, Va. – When CHKD opened the region’s first neonatal intensive care unit in 1972, the tiny babies shared a 20-bed unit in a single, large room with older children who also needed intensive care.

Over the years, the NICU has gained its own space, more beds, more sophisticated technology in “pods” of six to nine babies, making it the highest level NICU in the region, caring for the sickest, smallest babies. This month brought the completion of the most recent renovation of the unit, bringing the latest in NICU features and advancements.

The NICU now has 50 private rooms, and 10 rooms with two beds each. The number of children who can be cared for is the same, but all 70 beds have space for a parent to rest, along with private space for bonding. Sliding glass doors and the latest technology in monitors allow NICU staff to easily see how babies are doing, and provide the latest in treatments. “These tiny babies really need more space than you would think,” said Dr. Jamil Khan, a neonatologist who is medical director of the NICU.

The trend in NICUs across the country is moving toward a more individualized environment so levels of light and noise can be adjusted to meet the babies’ needs, and parents can spend quality time with their infants. A tiny, premature baby, for instance, may need a quiet, dim environment, while older babies benefit from more stimulation, such as more light, and more talk and touch from caregivers.

Because of COVID-19 pandemic visitor restrictions, we’re not able to allow media or the public to tour the state-of-the-art facility, but video and photographs are available for use at this link.

This renovation was five years in the making, with the first wave of babies moving in October of 2019, and the final 48 babies being transferred to the new unit September 9 and 10. Because of the delicacy of the infants, a single transfer took up to eight staff members, including doctors, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, nurses and others, rolling babies in incubators and cribs from the seventh floor to the fourth.

Penny Hatfield, a NICU manager, has worked at CHKD more than four decades, and has been in the NICU from the beginning. In the early years, the smallest patients were 28 weeks of gestation, and weighed around 2.7 pounds. Today, the smallest survivors push into the world as early as 22 weeks, weighing around 12 ounces.

“It’s amazing when you think about the type of patient we took care of at the start, and what we can do now,” Hatfield said.

The unit admits 500 to 600 babies a year, with an average length of stay of 41 days. The tiniest babies, those weighing less than 2.3 pounds, stay an average of 87 days.

The renovated unit has a whimsical oak tree in the lobby, with a squirrel peeking out from a knothole. A family lounge area has a kitchen, room for classes on care of babies, and a store where parents can “buy” books and clothing with “NICU bucks” they earn by attending classes that prepare them to take their babies home.

Dr. Khan, who has treated babies at CHKD’s NICU since 1988, said the unit is a tribute not just to the advances in care of the region’s smallest babies, but also to the commitment of the community: “We certainly wouldn’t be able to have this expansion to this state-of-the-art NICU without a lot of commitment from the hospital, and the people in the community who have supported the hospital over the years. Someone has to watch out for the children, and in Hampton Roads, it’s CHKD.”

News Releases - NICU Move     Cameron photo of NICU

Pictured left: CHKD staff members move one of the hospital's smallest patients to newly renovated NICU last week.

Pictured right: Anna and Nick Glandon with their son, Cameron, in one of the NICU's private rooms.

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CHKD is the only freestanding children’s hospital in Virginia and serves the medical and surgical needs of children throughout greater Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and northeastern North Carolina. The not-for-profit CHKD Health System operates primary care pediatric practices, surgical practices, multi-service health centers, urgent care centers, and satellite offices throughout its service region. In 2019, CHKD broke ground on a 60-bed, 14-story mental health hospital and outpatient center on its campus to address the mental health crisis facing our youth. The new tower being built on CHKD’s campus in Norfolk is scheduled to open in 2022.