NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY)– It’s a big move to help the littlest patients: Sentara Norfolk General Hospital has opened a new neonatal intensive care unit that is quadruple the size of its old one.

The NICU now has 57 beds instead of 47 and is located in the hospital’s Kaufman wing on a converted medical/surgical floor.

The new facility will offer:

  • Private and semi-private rooms, each with an outside window and natural light to help with the development of circadian rhythms
  • Sleep sofas for parents who want to stay with their newborns around the clock
  • Quieter environment with fewer sounds of alarms and other babies crying

Miliana Raynor is one of the first patients in the new NICU, born five weeks ago, she was transferred from the old unit giving her parents a unique perspective on how it’s working.

Her mother Marquita Raynor told WAVY that in the old unit, she and her husband had to sit face-to-face with their chairs nearly touching just to be by the baby’s bedside.

“And luckily, the baby beside her, her parents weren’t there, or else I don’t know how we all would have been able to spend time with our baby,” she said.

Now, in a private room conversations with doctors and nurses can be confidential.

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“We have very low birth weight babies, we have babies who are going through opioid withdrawal, we have babies on ventilators, and less stimulation helps them to heal.” NICU Clinical Manager Christina Zimmer said.

Overstimulation — including too much light, touch, or movement — can cause a premature baby’s heart rate or blood oxygen to drop. Private and semi-private rooms will reduce this and the potential for hospital-acquired infections.

The quieter atmosphere is also helping staff avoid “alarm fatigue” from the constant alerts, but it also means nurses are no longer always at arms reach.

They now carry portable phones designed to alert them immediately if a baby is in distress. Babies’ vitals are also monitored remotely at seven nurses stations.

Sentara also built space for milk techs to mix and prepare breast milk, which many NICUs consider a medicine.

“We’re able to be closer to the babies, closer to the patients closer to everything we need to do,” said Milk Tech Kirbi Barnes.

Sentara hopes these big steps will help the little ones get healed and home faster.