Vancouver hospital launches new kind of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

North America's first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where mother and child receive medical care in the same room, from the same nurse, is set to open on the campus at B.C. Children's and Women's Hospitals.

Premature or sick babies will be cared for right next to their mothers

The new Teck Acute Care Centre on the campus of BC Children’s Hospital has 70 separate single-family rooms, designed to care for premature babies and their mothers, together. (CBC News)

BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver is rolling out a whole new way to care for newborns with serious medical problems.

Once fully operational, the Teck Acute Care Centre will house North America's first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where mother and child will receive medical care in the same room, from the same nurse. 

It's a stark contrast to the traditional NICU model where incubators are lined up in rows in one room. The new Teck Acute Care Centre will contain 70 separate single-patient rooms.

In a release, the hospital said this new model will "help parents bond with their new baby from day one." Low-risk mothers will receive their postpartum care alongside their premature or sick baby by nurses trained to care for both. 

"Parents are going to feel less stress, less anxiety," said Ashley Heit, one of the nurses assigned to the new NICU. "They can physically see what's going on with their baby and they can help with their baby's care."

One of 70 acute care rooms at the Teck Acute Care Centre. They feature modern baby beds in place of a traditional incubator. (CBC News)

Heit said a parent being constantly present in those early days can be very helpful to nurses while caring for a newborn. She also said it is an important building block during the development of the relationship between child and parent.

The release from the hospital says there is evidence that shows that some mothers skip medical appointments following a premature birth to stay by their baby's side instead.

The rooms are equipped with beds for the mother and baby, fridge, private cupboard space and a chair for another loved one. Heit says the new model's privacy and quiet nature is invaluable for early care.

Mother Hilary Mason advocated for the new Teck Acute Care Centre to be designed in way that allowed the mother and child to be cared for together. (Joy Dixon)

Personal connection

Heit is, herself, a former prematurely born baby.

She is one of three premature triplets that gestated in 34 weeks, as opposed to the average of 40. Having spent her first days in an NICU herself, the new model is of special significance to Heit.

Her mother lived in Vanderhoof, B.C. but Heit and her siblings were born in Prince George. For six weeks before they were discharged, her mother would take a bus everyday between the two cities to visit her children in Prince George's NICU.

Shortly after being discharged, all three babies came down with pneumonia, and were readmitted to the NICU. This led to another round of bus trips.

"Everyone in my family has seen the old space, so like everyone in Vancouver, they want to see the new space," said Heit.

The centre is scheduled to open on Oct. 29. 

On Oct. 29, North America's first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where mother and child receive medical care in the same room, from the same nurse, will open at B.C. Children's and Women's Hospital. 5:15

With files from On the Coast and Megan Batchelor.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the centre will open on Friday. In fact, it is scheduled to open on Oct. 29.
    Sep 28, 2017 10:27 AM PT