FARGO — Essentia Health has opened a remodeled neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with 14 private rooms and new women's surgical recovery suites as part of a $4.1 million renovation project.

The new women's and children's unit was on display Tuesday, Sept. 17, during an open house at Essentia Health, 3000 32nd Ave. S.

The centerpiece of the renovated space on the fourth floor, which formerly housed an adult intensive care unit, is the new NICU, where 14 private rooms replace a 10-bed open bay design. Each private room is 270 square feet, including room for parents to sleep.

"Everything was done with the patient and family in mind to make this a healing environment," said Dr. Richard Vetter, Essentia's chief medical officer.

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Studies have shown that hospital designs incorporating lots of natural light, earth tones and soothing artwork help patients heal, resulting in accelerated recovery, shorter hospital stays and reduced pain, he said.

"There's plenty of natural light and design elements including nature photography, plants and warm, natural finishes," said Dan Beauchamp, Essentia's senior director of facilities, adding that the design is evidence-based.

The new Women's and Children's NICU Pediatrics Post-Partum unit features single rooms that ideal for families and are shown off during the open house at Essentia Health in south Fargo on Tuesday, Sept. 17. David Samson / The Forum
The new Women's and Children's NICU Pediatrics Post-Partum unit features single rooms that ideal for families and are shown off during the open house at Essentia Health in south Fargo on Tuesday, Sept. 17. David Samson / The Forum

The rooms create "a space where there's all the comforts of home," said Dr. Stefanie Gefroh Ellison, who oversees inpatient services at Essentia.

The family-centered focus includes room for the parents to sleep and a Ronald McDonald Family Room, which features a lounge with a fireplace, as well as a kitchen counter and refrigerator.

"It's all done with attention to details and healing in mind," Gefroh Ellison said.

Those details include layers of wood-panel-style coverings for the cart that holds the newborn's bassinet, which matches the room's cabinets, intended to add a "homey" touch.

"Every room has a little bit different personality and character," Beauchamp said.

The NICU rooms include cameras so parents can livestream the newborn's bassinet to watch the child, 24/7. Parents can turn off the livestream for privacy, including when a nurse is tending to the child.

"It could be a dad deployed overseas with the military," said Collin Gerdeman, a representative of Natus Medical, which makes the livestream camera system. "It's a great way to keep everybody connected."

A portable "distraction machine," which makes bubbles and changes colors, is meant to help calm children who might be anxious before a procedure. The device was donated by Essentia employees.

The new Ronald McDonald Family Room is open on the Women's and Children's NICU Pediatrics Post-Partum unit at Essentia Health in south Fargo on Tuesday, Sept. 17. David Samson / The Forum
The new Ronald McDonald Family Room is open on the Women's and Children's NICU Pediatrics Post-Partum unit at Essentia Health in south Fargo on Tuesday, Sept. 17. David Samson / The Forum

Hospitals and health systems go out of their way to cater to the needs of young mothers, so the design and furnishing at birthing centers often receive a lot of attention.

"A lot of women's entry point to the health system are through obstetrics," Beauchamp said. "They begin their journey when they get pregnant," continuing through delivery and throughout their lives and their children's lives.

The renovated unit also includes 12 beds divided among pediatrics, women's surgery recovery and after-delivery care for mothers and babies. Additional obstetric beds remain on the sixth floor.

The new unit, encompassing 17,653 square feet, included $2.6 million in construction costs.