Illinois Hospital Debuts Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

By HCO Staff

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Kahler Slater, an architecture, strategic advisory, interior design, and environmental branding firm, joins Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) in unveiling the opening of its expanded, family-centered Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

With the nationwide trend of increasing premature births, HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital needed to make drastic changes to their existing 45-bed, 15,000-square-foot Level III NICU. At the outset, project leaders knew they wanted to build upon the latest evidence-based design learnings from other best-in-class facilities. The design team and clinicians visited multiple benchmark facilities for NICU care in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. They were able to collaborate with staff and leadership to get a sense for lessons learned and best practices to bring forward.

Led by Dr. Beau Batton, Chief Neonatologist at HSHS St. John’s, the clinical design team along with Kahler Slater and women and children’s healthcare experts, Smith Hager Bajo, targeted multiple patient outcomes that could be improved with the new environment, including average length of stay and rate of readmission, among others. The team will be gathering post-occupancy data to determine the success of the desired outcomes.

Phase I of the expanded NICU is more than double the original size at 36,500 square feet, with a total of 56 beds. Innovative features of the expanded program include:

  • Single family rooms where parents can stay overnight with their infant.
  • Dedicated rooms for NICU twins and their families to stay together.
  • A tiny baby sub-unit dedicated to the highly specialized needs of the smallest patients.
  • A milk lab where milk technicians can fortify mothers’ breastmilk with additional nutrients.
  • A dedicated family respite lounge and overnight sleep suites will be available when Phase II opens later this year.

With the new units up and running, St. John’s will have the unique offering of couplet care. This care strategy was first introduced in Sweden at the Karolinska Institute in 2007 and there are only ten states in the nation offering this innovative program. It allows mom and their NICU baby to stay in the same room, establishing the essential parent-child bond from the outset. Positive outcomes as a result of couplet care have proven to be decreases in length-of-stay and infant morbidity. Couplet care also supports earlier bonding of NICU infant and mother due to earlier skin-to-skin contact and increased breastfeeding success.

As a family-centered environment, care was taken to make sure the design aesthetic of the space was appealing to the entire family. Thoughtful attention was given to light-filled care spaces and corridors. The clean and bright interior was then accented with simple shapes, pops of bold color and botanical graphics. These elements support wayfinding and help emphasize the smaller ‘neighborhoods’ throughout the floor. The overall palette maintains a consistent aesthetic with the standards established with the larger HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital, as well as the new HSHS St. John’s Women’s and Children’s Clinic (also designed by Kahler Slater) across the street.

St. Johns has a 78-year history of caring for premature and critically ill infants. As the only Level III NICU in the Illinois area, the hospital cares for about 700 babies annually from a 39-county area.