Changing rooms in NICU : a comparative descriptive study of parental perceptions of the physical environment of neonatal intensive care units : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree in Master of Philosophy in Nursing at Massey University
The physical environment of a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is unique and can be challenging and stressful for families. As infant survival rates and technology improved, many NICUs became 'busy', overcrowded, noisy environments. New directions in the design of newborn nurseries highlight the potential for the physical environment to support parental needs and optimise the parenting experience. In October 2004 the NICU at National Women's Hospital (NWH) in Auckland (New Zealand), relocated to a new facility at Auckland City Hospital (ACH). A key principle in the design of the new NICU was improvement of family space at the cot side. This non-experimental study sought to describe and compare parental perceptions of the physical environment of a traditional NICU configuration with a new custom built NICU. A sample of parents with infants hospitalised in NICU from NWH (n = 30) and a different group of parents from ACH (n = 30) completed a self report Likert-type questionnaire (with a scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). Qualitative data was sought using open ended questions. Significant differences were found between the old NWH NICU and the newly designed ACH NICU. Parents perception of the space at the cot-side was more adequate (p = 0.001), lighting levels more comfortable (p = 0.002), the cot-side was quieter (p = 0.02) and technology less intrusive (p = 0.03) at ACH NICU when compared to NWH NICU. Impact of these design changes on privacy, sense of belonging, and socialisation of parents did not show significant differences. Lack of cot-side space for NWH parents was the predominate theme from the open-ended questions. Parents viewed the family space and aesthetics of the new ACH rooms positively. Providers of newborn services contemplating redesign need to consider that increasing cot side space and decreasing infant numbers in clinical rooms can significantly improve a parent's view of NICU and therefore provide an environment that is supportive to parent's needs.