RVMC will expand intensive care unit for newborns

Premature newborns and their parents will soon have more elbow room at Rogue Valley Medical Center as the hospital prepares to break ground today on a $6 million expansion of its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The new NICU will increase patient capacity from 20 to more than 32 babies and will provide a more family-friendly atmosphere with private rooms and additional space to allow parents to stay overnight with their babies, said RVMC spokesman Grant Walker.

The improved NICU will lessen the extreme stress parents with premature newborns experience, said Michele Strickland, the NICU clinical manager.

"Right now the babies are close together and parents have limited space," Strickland said. "The new NICU will give parents more privacy and more bonding time with their babies."

The NICU cares for premature babies in a nine-county area stretching from Lakeview to Roseburg to Crescent City, Calif. Since 2004, the average daily number of babies in the NICU has gone from just over 15 to 19.

"The first thing parents will notice in the new NICU is the increased space," Strickland said. "Now parents will be able to have their babies near them the whole time."

When the NICU fills up, the hospital has to divert the babies to hospitals as far away as Eugene and Portland.

"We are excited that we will be able to keep babies in this area," said Sue Mendenhall, program director for The Children's Miracle Network.

The project will be completed in two stages. The first stage, which begins Dec. 1, is a complete makeover of an area on the hospital's second floor.

It will become a 13-room unit with 10 single rooms and three double-occupancy rooms for twins. The second phase will transform the existing NICU on the first floor into a 16-bed wing to serve babies with the most serious medical needs.

"We now have curtains separating families," Mendenhall said. "The nurses and docs are looking forward to the expansion."

The first few weeks are crucial for parents to bond with newborns, Mendenhall said.

"We have parents who are here for 100 days," Mendenhall said. "They sometimes need privacy to be close to their babies without distractions."

The $6 million project was made possible in part by donations from the community, and The Asante Foundation is working to raise $2 million for the project.

"We couldn't have done this without the support of this community," Mendenhall said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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