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Nine year wait for Wellington’s new neo-natal intensive care unit

Dec 1st, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

Old hospital arch is retained in the ground of the new Wellington Regional Hospital

NINE months is the normal gestation time for a pregnancy – but planning and construction of Wellington’s new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has been nine years in the making.

Nurse Rosemary Escott says she first heard in 2000 the new Wellington Regional Hospital would include space for sick and premature babies.

On February 12, her dream of a state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) will be delivered.

A scholarship-funded tour of hospitals in America and Europe, and a Sydney conference on neonatal unit design have helped Ms Escott, unit manager for the Wellington NICU, focus on what is best for the group of fragile babies she and her staff care for.

“This unit had to be built to support the baby. If we actually put the baby in the centre, what would that look like? It was the one thing we could change. 

Rosemary Escott with New NICU floor plan“What a baby needs is to develop normally, because most of our premature babies haven’t completed the development they should have had in utero. 

“Obviously, clinically, babies need support for their life systems, but importantly babies have to have a life. If we can make that beginning the best that we possibly can, both physically and developmentally, then we are setting them up for a whole life time,” says Ms Escott.

More beds (an increase of six up to 40), more space per baby, more natural light, and less noise, are the key features of the new unit in its aim to be more baby friendly.

Large double-glazed windows with adjustable blinds mean more natural light that can be controlled, and sound absorbent materials used in construction will reduce current noise levels and associated stress on babies.
A commitment to both critical and recovering babies has meant equal space for all, giving priority to family members as well as life-saving equipment.

“We needed to design a unit that would enable staff to provide developmentally appropriate support for the infants,” she says. 

“Also, the family should be able to be around that baby so the baby becomes a part of that family, because we only have them here for a short time and after that they go home into a family.

“Every child deserves to go into a loving family. Therefore we had to have a unit that would have facilities for parents.”Children visit at the NICU open day

The staff are excited about leaving the well-worn old unit in the Grace Neill block that has seen up to a thousand babies pass through every year since the early 1980s.

There will be less need for lifts and tunnels, with the new unit located right next to delivery suite and the maternity wards, and the helipad and operating theatres above and below.

Ms Escott says there is an extensive migration plan in place, with the nursing roster numbers doubled for moving day and extra transport teams available. 

With hard work and sound planning in place, Ms Escott sounds like a confident expectant mother and says she feels more excited than apprehensive, hoping the transition from old to new will be smooth and quick.

“It will be a big day, with lots of lists, but people have been fantastic. We are all very excited about it.

“There are very large bookings for January and February antenatally. It is our busy time, so we don’t expect it to be quiet.”

Ms Escott says neonatal services have been stretched over the whole country in the past year.

Statistics NZ says the birth rate is the highest since 1962.

There were 64,540 live births (33,060 boys and 31,480 girls) registered in New Zealand in the September, 2008 year, up 3.5% from 2007, says statistician Geoff Bascand.

The median age of women giving birth to their first child was 28 years in the year ended September, 2008, he says.
The vacant space left in the Grace Neill Block will be refurbished and then occupied by children in paediatric beds, currently wards 18 and 19, as well as children’s out patient clinics and child cancer services.

The total Wellington Regional Hospital Project – which includes new buildings and refurbishment at the Wellington site, as well as Keneperu and Kapiti – will cost $347 million.

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