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Parents weigh in on design of future NICU

Moms who consider themselves “NICU grads” received a detailed look at how Akron Children’s new NICU is taking shape and weighed in on some remaining questions posed by the architects.

About a dozen parents attended a focus group Nov. 13, led by HKS architect Rachel Saucier and HKS interior designers Beck Luthman and Andrea Sponsel.

Saucier showed parents the most up-to-date architectural renderings of the hospital’s new critical care tower, which will also include a new ER and outpatient surgical suite.

She also showed NICU floor plans, which will include 75 private rooms, including a few to accommodate twins.

“From an industry perspective, single rooms are the way to go,” said Saucier. “They are family-centered and say, ‘We want you to be here.’ Plus, they support what the infant needs. Private rooms allow you to adjust the light, sound and temperature for each infant’s needs.”

The current floor plans show all patient rooms along the perimeter so each room will have a window view.

Each room will include the baby’s isolette and a reclining chair that’s ideal for a parent practicing “kangaroo care,” skin-to-skin cuddling which has been proven beneficial for newborns in many ways. Each room will also have a sleep sofa, TV and a private bathroom.

Infants arriving from either helicopter or ground transport will reach the floor via centrally-located elevators.

“One of the biggest drivers behind our design is to move the infants as little as possible,” said Saucier.

The architects were looking for parent feedback in several areas: what they especially liked about the current NICU and what they wanted in the future NICU’s private rooms and shared spaces.

Megan Pollock, who spent 10 weeks in the NICU with her son, would love to recreate the look and feel of the hospital’s Reinberger Family Center.

“Some people spend weeks, if not months, in the NICU,” she said. “As much as possible, you want it to have the comfort of home.”

Parents asked about the possibility of having a chapel/meditation room in the NICU and if siblings would be allowed in the private patient rooms.

Mary Beth Fry suggested the name “quiet room” instead of “consultation room.”

“Consultation room sounds scary to me,” she said. “It sounds like a place I am going to get bad news.”

The architects asked parents to write comments on colorful Post-It Notes, using the prompts, “I think.” “I hear.” “I feel.” “I see.”

Post-it notes shared on a wall in the room expressed thoughts such as:

  • “I see my baby here, comfortable and welcoming.”
  • I feel my privacy is being respected.”
  • I hear by baby’s siblings playing with toys nearby.”
  • I think, Wow, this is in Akron?”

Saucier said the meeting was worthwhile in that the parents voiced several ideas the architects need to consider more closely.

“A hot topic was having a good place to clean and store moms’ breast-pumping equipment,” she said. “Security [keeping babies safe yet allowing parents easy access to them] was also very top of mind for these parents. It’s something we have talked about but this meeting really reinforced the importance of getting it right.”

Learn more about Akron Children’s Building on the Promise project.

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