Infant intensive care continues as Providence renovates

Earlier this month contractors began work on a $3.2 million renovation of the neonatal intensive care unit at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

The project requires finesse, though, since the unit must stay open round the clock, nurturing babies born prematurely who require high-tech monitoring, hospital and project officials noted.

Renovations are expected to be completed in September, said project manager Erik Fredeen who works for Meridian Management Inc. of Anchorage.

The unit is Alaska’s most extensive neonatal intensive care unit and nurtures for babies from around the state who need special care, according to hospital spokeswoman Karina Jennings.

Changes to the 38-bed unit include improvements to lighting, flooring, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The project also will add six private rooms for parents who need long-term lodging to be with their babies.

Installing the private rooms and other new features in the department follows research Providence conducted for the past four years by visiting other U.S. neonatal intensive care units, said Mary Diel, a registered nurse and a clinical supervisor at the unit.

Providence is adding the private rooms to test the benefits of having parents nearby for extended periods, to see if it allows babies’ health to improve so they can go home sooner, or if it helps their later development, Diel said. Some babies log long hospital stays, she said. For example, a baby born at 24 weeks old may need to stay at the unit for four months, she said.

Each room will feature different flooring, lighting and other elements to test which work best, she said.

The project is a joint venture between Cornerstone Construction of Anchorage and Andersen Construction Co. Inc. of Portland, Ore. The two companies also worked together on the recent expansion of Providence emergency room.

Construction at a neonatal unit is probably one of the most sensitive projects, Fredeen said. Builders in the unit must follow strict requirements ranging from infection control rules to covering carts holding demolition debris, he said.

"It’s important to emphasize that the level of care patients get won’t decrease during construction," he said.

Fredeen also stressed the teamwork in place between staff, the contractor and project management.

Preparations have already been made to smooth the process including an extended period for the contractor to work on the design, he said.

The project tallied three years of conceptual design work, he said.

Up to 75 nurses work in the unit, and Providence encouraged the nurses to offer ideas that could be incorporated into the design, said Diel, who has worked 19 years at the unit.

Sixteen years ago the unit was moved to its current location, she said. Renovations will include upgrading the lighting system to incorporate a controlled system that will dim to simulate the body’s circadian rhythms of day and night, she said. The new system also will allow dimness near the baby who needs darkness while allowing pinpointed light for nurses to record chart information, she said.

Flooring will be updated to ergonomically improve the area for health care providers who administer care chiefly while on their feet, she said.

The current unit includes a 13-bed critical room plus another 25-bed area which will be relocated during construction. The newborn nursery at the maternity unit, now less used since babies spend more time in their mother’s rooms, is scheduled to accommodate some of the babies in a temporary intensive care unit, she said.

Diel anticipates completion of the project as the culmination of careful research and innovation.

"I think the end result will be wonderful," she said.

12/09/2001 - 8:00pm