Relationship-based care and nursing excellence drive design of revamped nursery
[Geneva, IL] – When parents, grandparents, and siblings enter the revived Level II-E Special Care Nursery of Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital (affiliated with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago), they experience a relaxed setting where compassionate care is a priority.
What was once a busy room congested with equipment, staff, and families has transformed into a calm, spacious nursery where families bond with low birthweight and premature infants, as well as term infants with medical complications. Seven special care bays surround a nurse station identified by gentle lighting, curving shapes, and tranquil blues.
Legat Architects’ design, inspired by Northwestern Medicine Delnor’s focus on relationship-based care and nursing excellence, improves productivity, reduces congestion, and provides full code compliance. The neonatology team’s design participation included everything from trialing equipment to devising workflows to meet patients’ needs.
The renovation also rejuvenated the look and feel of the space. “From an aesthetic standpoint, we focused on making the setting as soothing as possible,” said Steve Blye, lead designer at Legat. “This plays out in the muted color palette, soft lighting, elliptical floor and ceiling elements, simulated skylight, and even custom curved air ventilation slots.”
Curves Soften the Space
One key goal of the 3,100-square-foot renovation was to create a “soft” ambiance. To achieve this, the design team turned to the curve. The most visible example is the central caregiver station, where two L-shaped desks have rounded corners to make them more approachable and better connected to the surrounding units. The desks are open in the center so that nurses can quickly access special care infants.
An oval carpet circle and ceiling element with a sky pattern and LED lights further distinguish the caregiver station. Nurses use monitors mounted on the ceiling’s sloped inner ellipse to observe babies’ vital signs. The station, appearing to float over the circulation area, plays the role of a “mission control,” assuring anxious parents with professionalism and compassion.
Blye said, “The curving caregiver stations within the elliptical shapes create a soft, welcoming destination for information and comforting advice for concerned parents already under stress due to their newborn’s special care status.”
The curves also appear in a lobby/prep area, where families get ready to see infants. It includes adult- and child-sized sinks for handwashing, as well as lockers, coat storage, and a bench for taking off shoes before gowning.
The design of perimeter special care bays provides privacy and helps reduce parental stress, while allowing families to gather around their newborn. Bays are configured with a newborn bassinet in the center, comfortable chairs, and medical support devices within easy access for caregivers. Each unit has bamboo-patterned resilient vinyl flooring and its own light dimmers to promote independence.
Six of the bays have pull-around curtains decorated with a giraffe print, while a seventh has a sliding glass door for infection-prevention isolation of babies. Two of the bays are configured to accommodate families of twins. Sinks between every two rooms reduce nurse walking time.
Daylighting without Daylight
Giving the nursery a daylit feel was a challenge—not only is the space on the first floor of a multi-story hospital, but it is surrounded by other rooms. Therefore, no natural light reaches the space.
The design responds with a vibrant sky pattern on acrylic panels above the nurse station. These “sky panels” also appear above each of the bays.
“It doesn’t try to fool anyone into believing that it’s actually the sky,” said Blye. “Rather, it taps into the human need to connect with nature by giving the psychological effect of being outdoors. It works surprisingly well.”
Well Baby Nursery and Drive-through Baby Viewing
During demolition of the old nursery, the construction crew discovered an interesting plaque. It referenced a viewing window that allowed family members to drive up and see their babies.
Though the hospital no longer offers drive-through viewing, it does include corridor viewing into a new well baby nursery. Curves in the well baby nursery floor and ceiling soften the space and echo the design of the special care nursery. A second window connects the two nurseries.
The special care and well baby renovations are part of a five-phase, 16,800-square-foot makeover of all spaces in Delnor Hospital’s NewLife Maternity Center including labor and delivery rooms, post-partum recovery rooms, operating rooms, staff lounges, locker rooms, and support spaces.
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